Underway vs. under way

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Under way is conventionally two words when it functions as an adverb or a predicate adjective (E.g., “The ship voyage is under way.”). It is usually one word, underway, when it is an adjective preceding its noun (E.g., “The underway voyage was interrupted.”). But English’s compounding impulse may eventually make underway the preferred term in all contexts. And in fact, many edited publications already use only the one-word form, even as a predicate adjective.


These publications buck the trend by using the two-word under way as an adverb and as an adjective following its noun:

The World Cup gets under way with an opening ceremony at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. [The Guardian]

On Capitol Hill this week, a serious debate is under way about whether to carry out an important part of the new Dodd-Frank rules for derivatives. [New York Times]

But other officials say that informal discussions are well under way. [Wall Street Journal]

But underway is gaining ground, sometimes in the same places—for example:

Authorities have been warning residents of the threat of asbestos as the massive Cyclone Yasi clean-up effort is underway. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Hawass said that an investigation is underway and that the “police and army plan to follow up with the criminals already in custody”. [Guardian]

Before the Olympic Games got underway, the odds of that happening were 4-to-1. [Wall Street Journal]

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