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in the works

In progress; being completed or implemented.

We've got a few projects in the works, but nothing I can discuss publicly just yet.

under way In progress; having begun.

Renovations to the State Capitol are currently under way.

Once our plan is under way, there will be no one to oppose us.

Are they synonyms or not? If we switch one with the other?

Once our plan is in the works, there will be no one to oppose us. We've got a few projects under way, but nothing I can discuss publicly just yet.

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"in the works" and "under way" are close, but typically used a little differently.

As I remember, "underway" is a naval term indicating that a boat or ship has left dock and is moving. In that case, if the captain says that "sailing to Cozumel is "in the works", his ship is still firmly tied to the dock, but he is planning to sail. When the ship is "underway", it is moving through the water.

Taking the term "under way" and using it outside of sailing: "in the works" typically indicates a discussion or preliminary stage with all high probability that the project will start. "under way" indicates that the project has physically begun.

For example, an executive stating that a new building "is in the works" indicates that discussions and preliminary planning have begun. If the executive states that the new building is "under way", then architecture, engineering and construction has begun.

Not a hard, fast rule, but I find the above to be the typical difference between the terms.

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  • Yeah, I think "being completed" in the cited definition of "in the works" is misleading - it is more likely to mean something that's being planned or prepared. Cambridge has "in the process of being planned or done". Cambridge also suggests "in the works" is informal while "under way" is not - I think "in the works" is common business jargon but "under way" is perhaps still more formal.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 26 at 13:48

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