Is it proper to use underway as an adverb? Or should under way be used?

Merriam-Webster defines underway as an adjective and under way as an adverb. The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus makes no distinction.

I think this might be a split between British English and American English. Or at least using underway as an adverb is becoming more popular.


Which British English references? The Oxford English Dictionary comments of under way, 'now frequently as one word'. There is a separate entry for underway, and it contains several British citations from the twentieth century.


Dictionaries notwithstanding, underway just looks like a mistake to my eye. It gives the appearance that the writer has got it confused with underpass and underwear.

It is a similar mistake that people make with everyday. As an adverb, every day is correct because both words carry their full weight e.g. I jog every day. But the two words are joined to form an adjective as in everyday clothes. If every and day are not joined to form a compound adjective, they should at least be joined by a hyphen: every-day clothes to show that the writer has created a new adjective. (Decline in the use of the hyphen is another subject ripe for a rant!)

There is no reason to join the adverbs under way or every day with a hyphen, so it follows that there is no need to join them together at all.


They mean the same thing and are easily understood with or without the space; under way is the earlier form, and probably still more common, even in American English according to Google nGram.

Curiously Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage spends more time discussing the under way/under weigh difference than under way/underway. I would discourage using underweigh, which might hint at selling short measure.


Although I do not possess a background in the U.S. Navy, I know several gentleman who have said background. I was told - and I believe I read it somewhere - that underway is the more common use of the term, whereas when a ship weighs anchor it is under way. In other words, "When I entered the auditorium the program was already underway." And, "We just made it on board when, no more than two minutes later, the ship was under way.

Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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