What is the difference between the words "Wandering" and "Roaming"? Don't both of them mean an aimless movement?

In Wordweb dictionary their meanings are described as:

Wandering: Travelling without any clear destination and Roaming: Move aimlessly without any destination.

So, is there any specific difference between the two?

  • 2
    I don't like that definition of roaming. I believe one can roam with a purpose. For example a polar bear may need to roam to find food- so there can be a purpose to roaming. Try this definition: to travel purposefully unhindered through a wide area
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 7:21
  • @Jim I think the original definition is missing an or.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 7:51

2 Answers 2


Indeed, to wander and to roam are synonyms, and they both can mean to move about aimlessly or without any destination, often in search of food or employment.

However, to wander has some additional meanings that to roam doesn't:

  • Lose clarity or turn aside from the main subject. (Her mind wanders.)
  • To be sexually unfaithful.
  • To go an indirect route or at no set pace. (We wandered into town.)
  • To move in a sinuous, spiral or circular course. (Synonym with meander.)
  • 5
    And to roam has some additional meanings that to wander doesn't
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 8:29

To me, roam has a flavor of being unintentional about location but not necessarily unintentional about purpose. It's also more frequently used to describe the movements and activities of animals.

Roaming animals are very busy and intent on their animal priorities, but they don't necessarily care where they are doing them. So to me, roaming can include things like looking for food, sex, seasonal migration or satisfying curiosity. But I wouldn't get those kinds of flavoring from wander.

On the other hand, wander implies moving without intensity of purpose either in direction or activity.

Wander often implies slow speed, but not always. Whereas for me, roam would imply the typical speed of an animal grazing or hunting depending on the habits of their particular species. Roaming buffalo and roaming tigers don't imply the same speeds at all to me.

ghoppe pointed out some additional meanings of wander. Some additional meanings of roam includes moving outside of your normal cellular phone network. However, unlike ghoppe I think roam can also mean "to be sexually unfaithful."

Both wander and roam can be used to imply movement outside of expected or accepted boundaries or paths, but neither has to mean that, and that kind of meaning depends on context. In those contexts they are synonymous with the verb stray.

For example, unwelcome grouping could be identified as wandering or roaming or straying hands.

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