6

What is the difference between auf dem Weg and unterwegs?

Ich bin unterwegs/auf dem Weg nach Hause.

  • "Auf dem Weg" also means to walk in an area designated for walking, as opposed to "walking on the lawn". – Robert Feb 26 '14 at 17:44
10

In their adverbial usage, they are entirely synonymous.

Ich habe unterwegs/auf dem Weg Hans getroffen.

"Kommst Du endlich?" -- "Schon unterwegs/auf dem Weg!"

"Hast Du schon etwas gegessen?" -- "Nein, das mache ich unterwegs/auf dem Weg."

I can think of one usage where only one of the two works:

"Kannst Du bitte nachher den Brief einwerfen? Die Post liegt doch auf dem Weg.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Downvotes without comments are rude. :( – elena Jun 10 '14 at 9:18
7

There is a difference when used without giving a destination:

Ich bin auf dem Weg.
Ich bin unterwegs.

While

  • auf dem Weg implies that you are going somewhere,
  • unterwegs is not implicating any direction/destination.
    You can used even if you are randomly walking/driving/.. around

As mentioned auf dem Weg can be used literally if something is actually on the way (see example by elena)

Otherwise it is used synonymously.

| improve this answer | |
  • +1. I've seen "unterwegs" used where "on the move" or "on the go" would also fit in English -- e.g., in advertising for a mobile banking app. (But I'm not a native or even good German speaker, so beware.) – j_random_hacker Dec 11 '18 at 9:40
2

There is an interesting common etymology of the German "unterwegs", and the English "on the way":

Old High German: underwegen
Dutch: onderweg
English: on the way

Note the change of u to o. Still in the 16th Century "under Wegen" was used in Germany. Today "unter dem Weg" would be used for a location below a way. Only if used with the preposition "auf" both, "auf dem Weg", and "unterwegs" are synonyms in contemporary German.

Today, the English underway has a different, figurative meaning (in Bearbeitung, im Gange).

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.