In this question, the questioner states

I wonder the origin of the word.

Can wonder take a simple object like that? Or should it be wonder about or wonder at or something similar (or something else)?

Wonder can certainly be used in other constructions:

  • I wonder if that’s right.
  • I wonder whether we’re dreaming of butterflies or a butterfly dreaming we’re awake.
  • I wonder about that whole Mayan thing.

But all of those are not just a simple object. Even

I just wonder.

...generally indicates wondering at something or about something, which might not be specified.

ODO specifies wonder as a verb with no object, but the quoted use is quite deliberate.

Should we simply take this as a poetic use?

  • 7
    A quick glance shows that around half of the questions posted here are ungrammatical, and more than half of the text associated with them contains grammatical errors. This suggests that perhaps they are not the best possible models to imitate. Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 20:12
  • 4
    "Something made me jump. I wonder what."
    – Henry
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 20:47
  • 2
    "I wonder what [it was]." @Henry, this is an indefinite clause, not a true object.
    – Swizzlr
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 21:49
  • 2
    I think you have to wonder about something. *I wonder that. is definitely ungrammatical, but I doubt that. is definitely grammatical.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 1:32
  • I wonder will it rain tomorrow does of course mean the same as ..whether it will rain tomorrow, but is not quite the same construction. Could that be the basis of an answer, I wonder? Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 10:58

5 Answers 5


No, it cannot. The only instances the Oxford English Dictionary gives of the transitive use of wonder are obsolete.

  • True, although the 19th-century citation is not too far back, nor sounds too odd: “1821 Lamb Elia Ser. ɪ. My first Play, ― I knew nothing, understood nothing, discriminated nothing. I felt all, loved all, wondered all.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 20:34
  • 1
    Reduced that-clauses are very common, and if "I don't wonder that he had a heart attack" is allowed, which I'm sure is true, then the elided version "I don't wonder he had a heart attack" is also. Some would call this (elided) construction a syntactical direct object construction (though I wouldn't). Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 23:18
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't see how the conclusion follows from the premise. Who says that you can just drop the word "that" in all possible sentences that might include it? "I think that Bob is here." Good. "I think Bob is here." Also good, works. "I love that so many came." Good. "I love so many came." No, doesn't work. "I think that is an apple." Good. "I think is an apple." Definitely no. Etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 21:52
  • 1
    There's nothing unusual about "wonder" here. Many similar words work the same way. You can think about the moon, but you can't think the moon. You can dream about falling, but you can't dream falling. Etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 21:55
  • @Jay There are internet examples for the zero complementiser after 'wonder': eg from The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift: 'I wonder he had the face to talk so'. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 14:43

In “I wonder the origin of the word”, origin appears to be the direct object of the verb, with wonder being used transitively.

OED has examples of this use, which is equivalent to the modern wonder at:

3. a. trans. To regard with wonder; to marvel at: often implying profound admiration (cf. wonder n. 7c). Obs.

1593 B. Barnes Parthenophil & Parthenophe 18 : If she be silent euery man in place With silence wonders her.
1821 C. Lamb My First Play in Elia 1st Ser., : I knew nothing, understood nothing, discriminated nothing. I felt all, loved all, wondered all.

However the modern wonder about does not appear to have its equivalent in an obsolete transitive form:

3. a. trans. To regard with wonder; to marvel at: often implying profound admiration (cf. wonder n. 7c). Obs.

3. b. impers. pass. it is to be wondered = it is to be wondered at (1d). Now rare or Obs.

4. To affect or strike with wonder; to cause to marvel, amaze, astound. (See also 1f) Obs.

Even defintion 1b is listed as intransitive:

1. b. with clause expressing the motive or object of wonder.
1846 W. Greener Sci. Gunnery (new ed.) 133 : We wonder the parties did not take a patent for the discovery.

This is quite close to the original form, but again is wonder at, not wonder about. The meaning wonder about is listed as “usually with clause” rather than transitive with an object:

2. Usually with clause: To ask oneself in wonderment; to feel some doubt or curiosity (how, whether, why, etc.); to be desirous to know or learn.

a1616 Shakespeare Winter's Tale (1623) iii. iii. 69 What haue we heere? Mercy on's, a Barne?... A boy, or a Childe I wonder?

That citation appears to use a child as the grammatical object of wonder in the meaning wonder about. But the definition is still intransitive.

OED does have a note

I wonder is often placed after a question which expresses the object of curiosity or doubt; e.g. ‘How can that be, I wonder?’ = I wonder how that can be. Also I wonder!, colloq. exclamation expressing doubt, incredulity, or reserve of judgement.

So it appears that wonder can take an object (albeit in an obsolete use) if the meaning is wonder at but not if the meaning is wonder about.


It's allowed but uncommon these days (it was more common once). I wouldn't be surprised if some regional forms had it heavily, but I would advise avoiding it as unidiomatic yourself.

Interestingly, it's more common in the negative, where it means that something was expected: "I don't wonder he had a heart attack, he lived on fried food and smoked forty a day". Here "I don't wonder that..." would still be more common, but the first form I give wouldn't be unheard of.


"To wonder" is an intransitive verb, which means it cannot be followed by a direct object. It must be followed by an indirect object.

An example:

*I wonder the moon.

The moon is used as a direct object, but the sentence does not make sense.

I wonder at the moon.

The moon is preceded by the preposition at, so it becomes an indirect object and the sentence is grammatical.

In addition, if a clause follows I wonder, the verb remains intransitive, as a clause is not a direct object. Example:

I wonder whether he will arrive today.


Yea, verily! This question wonders me!

In serious response: Yes, 'wonder' can be used with an object, but only when used as a synonym for 'amaze', not in the sense of 'to be curious or introspective about something'.

  • 2
    Not my downvote, but it's generally expected that unusual uses be supported by documentation. I might unaccept the accepted answer and write my own (now that I have found a canonical reference).
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 8:58
  • Inasmuch as "unusual" is synonymous with "archaic", yes.
    – Tomer
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 16:37

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