Confused about whether to use wonder or wander? In this lesson, I will teach you the meaning and pronunciation of these two confusing words. I will also give you some memory tricks to help you remember the difference.

Confusing Words: Wonder or Wander

You are not alone in thinking these two words are confusing. This is because they have a very similar sound and are often used in a closely related context. A second reason these words confuse us is because they are both very old words, which have roots in Old English and Proto-Germanic.

Have you ever wondered if you should use wonder or wander? Watch the video below to learn the difference:

The Meaning of Wander

The word ‘wander’ (v) means to walk around in a way that’s not planned. For example, you can go and wander around the shops. It means that you shop in a relaxed manner.

Students get confused about the pronunciation of ‘wander’ due to its spelling with the letter ‘a’. Importantly, however, the word does not have an ‘a’ sound. It is pronounced with the /ɒ/ vowel. The /ɒ/ vowel is most commonly spelt with a letter ‘o’. Here’s a phrase to help you remember the correct pronunciation:

Harry Potter wandered around Hogwarts with his wand held aloft.”

↑ This phrase contains lots of /ɒ/ vowels
Harry Potter holding his wand.
Harry Potter is holding is wand aloft (high in the air).

Meaning One of Wonder

The word ‘wonder’ (n) when used as a noun means to experience beauty or a sense of awe about something. It is usually used to talk about the magnificence of nature.

The adjective ‘wonderful’ is used to talk about things that are amazing or magnificent. By associating the words ‘wonder’ and ‘wonderful’ together in our minds, it will be easier to remember they share a common sense of meaning. For example: ‘I had a wonderful time at the party’.

Meaning Two of Wonder

The second meaning of ‘wonder’ (v) as a verb is not as widely used. It means to ask ourselves questions in our mind. We use it when thinking aloud to ourselves. Importantly, however, as we are thinking to ourselves, we do not use question marks when making sentences with ‘wonder’ (v). We hear the rising intonation, but we never include a question mark in the written sentence:

I wonder why spiders have eight legs.”

Your intonation should rise when saying the phrase

How to Pronounce ‘wonder’ and ‘wonderful’

These words are commonly mispronounced because the ‘o’ in the spelling makes students pronounce them with an ‘o’ sound. In fact, these words contain an /ʌ/ vowel, which is in the word ‘CUP’.

wonder (n) /ˈwʌn.də/

wonderful (adj) /ˈwʌn.də.fəl/


Remember the Difference: wonder or wander

The mnemonic image below with help you remember the difference. Never doubt yourself again by asking if it should be wonder or wander!

remember the difference: wonder or wander.
Remember the difference: wander or wonder

Wonder or wander are sometimes used in the same context

The Romantic era in European art (1800-1850 approximately) was one in which artists and writers were deeply moved by nature. For them, nature evoked a feeling of the sublime, which is a feeling of awe and beauty. We can also say that for the romantics, nature evoked a sense of wonder because it was magnificent to them.

'Wanderer above the sea of fog' by Caspar David Friedrich.
‘Wanderer above the sea of fog’ by Caspar David Friedrich

In the painting, which is an iconic artwork from the Romantic era, we see a man standing on a mountain top experiencing the wonder of nature. To get to this mountain top, especially in those times, the man would have needed to wander a long distance up the mountain. This artwork is a good example that wandering (walking) through nature can often cause us to feel a sense of wonder. It is no wonder (idiom) that we find these wonderful words so confusing!


▶︎ Watch my lesson on How to Pronounce ‘garage’.

▶︎ Learn more about the painting ‘Wanderer above the sea of fog’ via Artsy.net

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Author

Jade Joddle grows your confidence and skill to shine when speaking English.

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