Difference between Wander and Wonder

Updated on March 27, 2017

What did the famous J.R.R. Tolkien say?

  1. “Not all those who wander are lost.”
  2. “Not all those who wonder are lost.”

If you know the answer, kudos to you! But if you are unsure (or if you were sure but are now unsure), don’t worry! Wander and wonder are mistakenly interchanged because they have nearly the same spelling and pronunciation. What is the difference between the two? (And what did J.R.R. Tolkien really say?) This article will discuss the meanings and differences of the two words.

Definitions

Wander

The word wander (pronounced /wänder/) is a verb which means “to move with no specific destination or purpose.” It was originally derived from the Old English word “wandrian” which means “to move aimlessly.” Let’s take a look at some sample sentences:

  1. I went to Cambodia alone and wandered around the amazing temples.
  2. Max and his dog love to wander through the woods, especially during autumn.

“Wander” is also often used in figurative speech to indicate nonphysical activities that do not have a specific purpose or goal. Let us take a look at some examples below:

  1. I was relieved to hear that my parents’ conversation slowly wandered away from religion.
  2. The movie was so boring that Dana’s mind began to wander.

wonder

On the other hand, the word wonder (pronounced /wunder/) comes from the Old English word “wunder” which means “a marvelous thing.” In its modern form, it is used as a verb that means:

  1. To feel the desire to know something; for example: Jenny, an aspiring model, always wonders how it feels to be on the catwalk in front of hundreds of people.
  2. To be in awe of something; for example: After 72 hours of nonstop hiking, she sat down and wondered at the mysterious Choquequirao.

“Wonder” is also a noun which means “a beautiful or magnificent thing.” Here are some examples:

  1. Machu Picchu is one of the world’s greatest wonders.
  2. Puerto Princesa Underground River has recently been declared one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

It can also be used to describe a feeling of admiration or something or someone that causes a feeling of admiration. For example:

  1. The seven-year-old singer is truly a child wonder!
  2. The fans listened to Charlotte Church in wonder.

Wander vs Wonder

What, then, is the difference between wander and wonder?

The word “wander” is a verb which means “to move without a specific purpose.” It can also be used in figurative statements that express something is moving aimlessly. It is a term that involves a physical activity. It is pronounced as /wänder/ (the first syllable is pronounced similarly to the “wan” of “want”).

Conversely, the word “wonder” is both a verb and a noun. It involves a mental activity. It means “to feel the desire to know something,” “to be in awe of something or someone,” “a feeling of admiration,” or “a beautiful or magnificent thing.” It is pronounced as /wunder/ (the first syllable is pronounced similarly to “one”).

So going back to the question we asked at the beginning of this article, the answer is that J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all those who wander are lost,” which means not all those who walk aimlessly are lost.

Comparison Chart

WanderWonder
Pronounced /wänder/Pronounced /wunder/
A verbA noun and a verb
Means “to move without a specific purpose”; also used in figurative statements that express something is moving aimlesslyMeans “to feel the desire to know something,” “to be in awe of something or someone,” “a feeling of admiration,” or “a beautiful or magnificent thing”
Involves a physical activityInvolves a mental activity