Wonder vs. Wander: What’s The Difference?

Learning a language’s grammatical concepts is arguably one of the most difficult things about learning any language.  For example, for anyone who has ever learned a foreign language before, you know how difficult it is to memorize verb conjugations, different forms of pronouns, lists of noun rules, and various other grammar rules.  And if you have ever learned more than one other language, it can be very easy to get them confused.

Welcome to English, a language that is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to master due to the complexity of its rules and the fact that it actually breaks its own rules more often than not.  The exceptions often outnumber the rules, and it can be very hard to keep track of what is right and what is wrong, especially if you find yourself working with several different groups of people with their own colloquialisms or slangs. English lends itself to several common grammar mistakes that English learners and experienced English speakers alike make often.  

Another thing that can make the English language exceptionally difficult is that its grammatical concepts actually seem to bridge gaps in meanings and often employ the use of homonyms, words that sound the same but have different meanings and drastically different spellings.  In addition, English also has several words that have very similar root words and even sound the same in pronunciation (homophones) but actually have completely different uses.

In this article, let’s explore the often confused words wonder and wander, what the different words mean, learn their proper use, look for their synonyms, and learn their etymology and context.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

Definitions of Wonder and Wander

When trying to understand similar words with discreet differences, it is important to first learn the definitions before trying to incorporate them into your vocabulary.  Otherwise, you end up sounding pretty dumb when you try to use it and use it incorrectly.  Here is the definition of the word wonder, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary: “a cause or feeling of admiration or astonishment”, or “rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience”. A secondary definition of the word as a verb is listed as, “to be in a state of wonder”.

On the other hand, wander is a verb meaning, “to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal” or “ to follow a winding course, meander in an aimless way”.  

In total, there are just a couple of commonly accepted definitions for the words wonder and wander, and there is really only one spelling for each that is widely recognized.  However, the operative word there is “widely”.  The dictionary by definition cannot be the universal standard for all things grammar.  There will be spellings, definitions, and use cases of specific words that are not in most dictionaries but are still used in specific areas or in specific colloquial contexts.

Is It Just a Spelling Error?

So, when comparing the words wonder and wander, the question may arise: is one just a misspelling of the other?  Or are they both considered correct depending on context and use?

In this case, your best bet would be to assume that both are correct.  Because both are widely used and have unique spellings and dictionary definitions, it is a safe bet that both wander and wonder are correct and can both be used.  

What Part of Speech are Wonder and Wander?

Another good thing to learn before trying to fully incorporate a word into your vocabulary is which part of speech the word  actually represents: where in a sentence would the words wonder and wander belong?

The word wander is actually only a verb and only really has three or four different meanings that are widely accepted.  However, the word wonder can actually be a noun, a verb, or an adjective depending on context and use case.  Here is an example of each:

  • Noun: That pyramid is a wonder to behold.  (Used comparatively)
  • Verb: I wonder when the pizza will finally be delivered.
  • Adjective: The new design was a wonder product; it was truly better than anything else the company had ever released.

Example Sentences of Wonder and Wander in Context

Learning how words are properly used in context in both written and spoken contexts.  Here are a couple uses of the words wonder and wander in normal conversation.    

Wonder:

  • He looked with wonder at the art displays on the walls of the museum.
  • You might wonder what that was about, but the answer was really quite obvious. 
  • The wonder of the sound that the symphony produced was unmatched by any other orchestral sound.

Wander:

  • Not all those who wander are lost.
  • Sometimes his mind wanders when he has work to do, making it difficult for him to focus.
  • They wandered off into the woods away from the group to explore the unseen sights.     

Etymology and History of the Words Wonder and Wander

The final step in learning where a word comes from is to explore its history, its etymology, and learn where it came from.  According to EtymOnline.com, the word wander first entered English by way of the Old English word “wandrian”, meaning move about aimlessly.  That word, in turn, was derived from the West Germanic word “wundrōjanan”, meaning to roam about and Low German “wunder.”

Many words in English can be traced back through Western European languages to ancient languages such as Latin and Greek, but this word seems to have originated strictly in the Germanic tribal languages of ancient Western Europe.    

In Summary

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that culture drives language, not the other way around.  The frequency of use of a certain word in a certain context with a certain definition is what eventually determines whether or not that word is considered “proper” or not, so it is important to know your audience and to be able to determine who you are speaking to. Communicating directly with your audience will enable you to better understand when to use certain words correctly and provides you with an interesting lesson that will increase your mental activity.

Sources:

  1. https://thewordcounter.com/blog-common-grammar-mistakes/ 
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wonder 
  3. https://www.etymonline.com/word/wander#etymonline_v_4818 
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wander  
  5. https://thewordcounter.com/midnight-and-noon/ 
  6. https://thewordcounter.com/is-vs-are/