To wander is to walk aimlessly or go astray. To wonder is to think or question.
What is the difference between wonder and wander?
Wonder is either a noun that references something astonishing or remarkable, while the verb “to wonder” means “to think,” “question,” or “speculate.” For example, late physicist Stephen Hawking once said:
“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist.”
In contrast, we often use wander as a verb to mean “to walk” or “travel through” in an aimless, indifferent manner. Author J. R. R. Tolkien uses the verb best in a poem from The Fellowship of The Ring with:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.”
Why do people confuse wonder and wander?
Writers tend to confuse wonder and wander because they have slightly similar pronunciations and spellings. While these terms are not homophones like “bear/bare” or “accept/except,” they share similarities with confusing terms, like “calvary/cavalry.”
What is the definition of wonder?
As mentioned before, the word wonder is a noun or a verb. As a verb, wonder references the act of “feeling curious or doubtful” or “to feel awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration.”
- “How many cookies did they eat, I wonder?”
- “I wonder whether you’ll join us later?”
- “We wondered at the beauty of the horizon.”
- “The parents stood wondering at their child’s confession.”
The noun wonder references the feeling of admiration or amazement from something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.
- “The meteor shower left viewers in a state of wonder.”
- “She spoke with an expression of amazement and wonder.”
- “We bathed under the star’s luminous wonder and glory.”
A “wonder” can also be something extraordinary, remarkable, effective, surprising, or, in extreme cases, “an event inexplicable by the laws of nature” (such as a miracle). For example,
- “AOL, Ask Jeeves, and MSN were all wonders of the internet before websites like Google.”
- “The giant Redwoods are ancient wonders of the Pacific Northwest.”
- “The discovery of penicillin is a true wonder of nature.”
This sense of the word often appears in the phrase “works wonders” to describe something that has a beneficial effect, whereas the opposite meaning occurs with “no wonder” to mean “it is not surprising.” For example,
- “You registered so late, it’s no wonder there are no open university courses.”
- “It might look small, but this little almond works wonders for your hair and nails.”
Lastly, the adjective wonder describes something as “remarkable” or “extraordinary” in terms of being beneficial. For example,
- “Tina thinks the wonder pill will curb her hunger and help her lose weight.”
- “Early farmers considered corn to be a wonder crop.”
Wondered (past participle); wondering (present participle); wonder(s) (present tense).
Verb: Ask oneself, conjecture, deliberate about, meditate on, muse on, ponder, reflect on, speculate about, think about.
Etymology of wonder
Middle English wonder derives from Old English wunder.
What is the definition of wander?
Wander is a noun and verb that describes movement, behavior, or thinking that is leisurely, aimless, irregular, or incoherent.
In regards to movement, the verb wander can mean:
- To walk, move, or travel in a leisurely or aimless manner (without a destination);
- To travel indirectly or without a set pace, or;
- To move slowly away from a fixed point or place.
- “Do you ever wander the isles of bookstores?”
- “We spent most of our childhood wandering the forest together.”
- “You can’t just wander through life, waiting for things to happen for you.”
- “The little group of disciples wandered the desert for days.”
When describing the travels of a road or river, wander means “to meander” or “proceed in an irregular course.” We often see this sense constructed with similar words like zigzags, bends, snakes, winds, twists, or turns. For example,
- “The trail wandered miles from the nearest stream.”
- “We followed the river as it wandered around the bend.”
The verb “wander” can also depict the direction or movement of one’s thoughts and attention. In this sense, wander means “to turn one’s attention from one thought to another without clarity or coherence.” For example,
- “Her thoughts wandered in the wake between sleep and consciousness.”
- “The liturgy was so dull, we couldn’t help but let our minds wander.”
However, the same sense of wander can denote one’s attention when it’s “directed without an object or in various directions.” For example,
- “The cat’s eyes wandered to the little seedling by the door.”
Alternatively, the verb wander can mean “to behave in a way that does not conform to societal norms or standards of morality.” In this sense, we can use wander within figurative speech to describe an unfaithful romantic partner. For example,
- “At least he doesn’t have wandering eyes, like that rat Steve.”
As for the noun form, wander simply describes “an act of wandering.” Likewise, someone who “wanders” or “travels aimlessly” is called a “wanderer.”
- “Let’s take a wander around the block.”
- “If I get a chance, I’ll have a wander over for a visit.”
- “Larry, that gentle soul, is a true wanderer at heart.”
Wandered (past participle); wandering (present participle); wander(s) (present tense).
Verb: Amble, dawdle, drift, float, gallivant, journey, meander, potter, ramble, roam, rove, saunter, stray, stroll, tour, travel, walk, wayfare, voyage.
Noun: Amble, dawdle, meander, potter, ramble, roam, saunter, stroll, walk.
Etymology of wander
The word wander derives from Middle English wanderen and Old English wandrian through West Germanic origins.
How to remember wonder vs. wander?
To remember the difference between wonder and wander, try associating “wonder” to words that have a similar spelling and meaning, like:
- Wonderful (adj.): “extremely good.”
- Wonderment (noun): “great and pleasant surprise.”
- Wondrous (adj.): something “that is to be marveled at.”
Looking to improve your English vocabulary? Then be sure to check out similar grammar lessons on The Word Counter, such as:
Test how well you understand the difference between wander and wonder with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: The discreet differences between wander and wonder come down to movement with a discreet purpose vs. movement with a definite purpose.
- The meaning of the words wonder and wander can both reference a/an _____________.
a. Mental activity
b. Physical activity
c. Acting with a specific purpose
d. A and B
- The verb wonder depicts ______________.
a. Movement along a winding course
b. Movement along a fixed course
c. Movement along an irregular course
d. None of the above
- Choose the right synonym for the noun wonder.
- Someone who wanders is likely to feel the emotion of ____________.
- The word “wonder” stems from which Old English word?
d. B and C
- Which of the following statements contains one or more spelling errors?
a. “The interesting lesson left us in a state of wonder.”
b. “We stood in wonder at the magnificent object.”
c. “Artists of the ancient world left such beauty and wander.”
d. None of the above
- Which regular verb form contains an -ing ending?
a. Present tense
b. Present participle
c. Past participle
d. Future participle
- The noun wonder shares a similar spelling and meaning with the adjective ___________.
d. All of the above
- Joseph, Y. “Stephen Hawking, in His Own Words.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 14 Mar 2018.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. 1954. “The Fellowship of the Ring: The Lord of the Rings.” Del Rey Market Edition, 2012, p. 193.
- “Wander.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Wander.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Wonder.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.
- “Wonder.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Wonderful.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
- “Wonderment.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
- “Wondrous.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.