Sometimes, finding the perfect synonym can feel impossible, especially since a thesaurus (or a synonym post on Tumblr) will list words that have similar meanings without providing information on how similar those words actually are. Figuring out the nuances and subtle variations between umpteen words that all mean almost-but-not-quite the same thing can be one heck of a stumper but never fear: you want to find the perfect word and we are here to help!
On this edition of Synonym Stumpers – Walk! How many times can you say someone walked across a room before it gets boring? Fortunately, there are lots of awesome words that mean “walk.” Unfortunately, they all mean something a smidge different – and those variations can mean the difference between an evocative turn of phrase and a clunker that makes your readers go, “put away your thesaurus already!” Here’s our handy-dandy guide to our favorite synonyms for “walk,” and what each means!
Note that no one list can be exhaustive, and in certain contexts all of these words make sense, can be used, and might have subtly different meanings. In the end, the best way to learn the nuances of words is to read extensively. No thesaurus or list of synonyms, no matter how thoroughly annotated, can give a complete sense of all the possible usages of a word!
Note the second, the writer of this list primarily speaks US Northeast English. Other dialects may have subtle differences in these words.
Words on this list: amble, ambulate, constitutional, go on/by foot, hike, hoof it/leg it, limp, lumber, march, meander, mosey, pace, pad, plod, saunter, shamble, shuffle, stalk, step, stomp, stump, stride, stroll, strut, toddle, traipse, tramp, troop, trudge, turn
amble: ambling can have a few different implications. It suggests a certain aimlessness – “she ambled around the garden” – or, alternatively, a casual attitude – “we ambled through the mall.” Ambling is the opposite of purposeful or rapid walking – if someone is described as ambling, they are unhurried, calm, at ease, likely not walking in a straight line, and probably easily distractable (eg, by seeing a pretty flower or a store they’d like to visit in the mall). When someone ambles, nothing is urgent and all is well. Alternatively, in specific instances, ambling can imply that something is wrong with a person – for example, they may be drunk or wounded. It’s a close synonym of meander and stroll, and related to shambling.
ambulate: yes, ambulate means walk. No, you shouldn’t use it in most cases, unless having your character sound like a thesaurus is intentional, or you are describing certain kinds of limited motion, especially those involving a movement aid/assistive device such as a cane or a foot scooter. For example, a character walking with crutches might ambulate across a room. A robot might self-describe their movement as ambulation. However, in most contexts it will sound stilted, old fashioned, or weird.
constitutional: a constitutional is a type of walk specifically undertaken to improve or maintain health – exercise, but specifically walking as exercise. The term is dated, but would be appropriate in many Western historical settings in the 18th and 19th centuries. “The professor left to take his daily constitutional” is an example of usage.
go on/by foot or travel on/by foot: one of our relatively straightforward synonyms. It specifically implies a mode of travel. It would be odd to say someone “went by foot across the room,” but more appropriate if describing how a journey is undertaken. It can be a little stilted, though, or old-fashioned. In a lot of contexts it’s probably better to just say walk. “How did you go to the store?” “I traveled by foot.” That sounds weird. “How did you go to the store?” “I walked.” That doesn’t sound weird. “How are we getting to the show?” “Oh, we’ll go by foot.” That also doesn’t sound weird. Just pay attention to your context.
hike: hiking always means the same as walking, but it implies a slog or a trek – a certain ruggedness, if you will. The most obvious context is when one is walking in the forest or climbing a mountain, but “hike” is also appropriate when the destination is far away or off the beaten track – for example, “yeah, I went down to Sal’s yesterday, that was quite a hike!” A person might hike around a lake, hike up a mountain, or hike at a state park, but unless the purpose is intentionally ironic, no one would ever hike to the local corner store or across a room. It is a close synonym to striding.
hoof it or leg it: these are both colloquial ways of saying walk, and make the most sense used in dialog, rather than in description, though it would depend on the point of view character and the type of narrative (as in, first person versus third person). Both imply a certain haste, while still meaning walking. “She legged it to the barn to keep up with the horses” would potentially make sense as a description. Alternatively, “should we drive to the store?” “naw, let’s just hoof it” would be a common way to use this.
limp: limping specifically indicates that someone is having trouble with one of their legs and is therefore walking unevenly, perhaps in a stumbling fashion. They might be injured, or have long-term damage, or use a movement aid, etc. Limping will always imply unevenness of gait. Be very careful using limp as an adjective to describe a person (“the limp man”) as this is increasingly considered ableist, similar to the words “lame” or “gimpy.”
lumber: not to be confused with “lumber” as in wood, lumbering is a plodding, heavy way of walking. It also implies that the person doing it is large in size, and sometimes has a negative/stereotyping connotation that the person doing it is a little dull/unintelligent. Because of that negative (and unreasonable) implication that a large person is automatically stupid, use this one sparingly and only in contexts where it’s clear that the second isn’t the intention (unless your goal is to show that your narrating/PoV/speaking character is the kind of jerk who would describe someone that way, in which case…go for it.) Lumbering is similar to plodding, trudging, and shambling.
march: marching, in its more obvious usage, refers to the way that soldiers in rank walk – high, purposeful steps. However, it can also be used in more casual contexts to suggest a certain type of obstinate stomping. “Furious, he marched across the room and slapped his hand on the table,” is an example of the second usage. In the second usage, march is a close synonym of stomp.
meander: meandering is specifically aimless, casual wandering. It also suggests that a person isn’t going in a straight line. Think of meandering in the way it’s used to describe a stream – a meandering stream has a slow flow in a course with many twists and turns and no purpose behind its course. When used as a term for walking, that’s what meandering implies – a lack of intentionality and haste. It’s a close synonym of ambling and similar to strolling.
mosey: moseying is similar to sauntering, and suggest a certain casual way of walking and an easy attitude. This word is specifically associated with the Old West and cowboy stories, and it’s easiest to imagine it in those terms – when someone has spent a lot of time on a horse, there’s a certain loose-boned way of walking, shoulders back, torso relaxed, pelvis scooped forward, legs a little bowed. That’s a mosey. In most other contexts, mosey would be a very odd word choice. Even other settings with many horses (such as a fantasy or medieval or Mongolian environment) using moseying would be out of place. In most contexts, it would be more appropriate to use sauntering or strolling.
pace: pacing, when used as a movement word (as opposed to its meaning of “keeping pace”) refers specifically to walking back and forth through a regular course. Pacing is most often associated with someone being deep in thought, anxious, or anticipatory – when someone walks back and forth repeatedly across a space, that’s pacing. It can also be used to refer to, for example, a guard walking an established, consistent patrol. “Paces” is another word for “steps,” though it’s a little old fashioned – in this regard, it’s similar to strides.
pad: padding is specifically walking softly and carefully, and also usually implies that the person who is padding is either barefoot or in socks. It would be pretty odd for someone to pad while in shoes, since it’s very difficult for someone to move quietly in shoes. However, unlike stalking, padding has a benign implication. Someone might stalk to quietly sneak up on someone, whereas they’d be more likely to pad if they’re trying to be silent so as not to wake up a friend.
plod: plodding is a heavy step, often associated with drudgery and exhaustion. For example, a manual laborer carrying a heavy load could be described as plodding, or someone whose steps have slowed as they come near the end of a long journey might be plodding. It’s a word with weight to it, and fatigue, and slowness bourne specifically of being so loaded down that one can hardly go farther. Plodding also has a hint of determination in it – “even though they were exhausted, they plodded on.” It’s similar to lumbering, trudging, and shambling.
saunter: while a lot of words for walking imply a certain awkwardness or fatigue, sauntering is the opposite – a saunter is a cocky, confident, pleased way of walking. It might be accompanied by a saucy wink. The implication to “sauntering” is that the person doing it is carefree, unworried, and unhurried. It’s similar to strolling, but with the addition of utmost self-assurance.
shamble: there’s a good reason shambling is the word we use most for zombies – it heavily implied disordered, clumsy movement. Consider the other meaning of shambles – that someone or something is a mess – and translate that over to a type of walking, and you’ll have the right idea. Shambling communicates hunched shoulders, uneven steps, and difficulty moving – that can be due to undeath, or old age, or injury, or fatigue, but whichever one the writer intends, shambling will include those connotations. It’s a close synonym with shuffle and similar to plodding and lumbering.
shuffle: similar to shambling, shuffling is a slow, stilted way of walking that suggests the person moving is having difficulty. Further, shuffling also specifically means that the person is not lifting their feet. They’re walking by kind of…sliding forward…and going very slowly, taking small steps. It’s most commonly associated with old age, and people who shuffle tend to have poor balance and to be easily challenge by obstructions, such as dips in the roads or stairs. Shuffling can also be caused by injury or extreme fatigue. It’s a close synonym of shambling.
stalk: stalking is a creeping, stealthy way of walking, most commonly associated with sneaking up on someone or something. It also often (but certainly not always!) has a negative connotation. In the same way that a criminal might stalk their victim (as in, following them, scaring them, calling them, doxxing them, etc.), a person who stalks as their way of walking is most likely trying to ambush someone or something. When it’s not directed at one person stalking another, it’s often linked with hunting – a hunter will stalk their prey. In its most benign, stalking could be someone trying to scare a friend; at its most violent, assassins stalk their victims.
step: this is one of the closer synonyms for walk, but it does have some subtle differences. Saying “she walked into the sunlight” would imply someone walked from a shadowed area into a brighter one and then continued; saying “she stepped into the sunlight” instead implies that someone emerged from a shadowed area into a brighter one and then stopped. That said, stepped is probably the most interchangeable with “walked,” though in some contexts it’ll sound awkward or overly formal. “She walked across the room” sounds more casual and modern than “she stepped across the room,” and while it’s hard to define the exact difference, the second suggests a certain intentionality and carefulness that just using “walked” doesn’t.
stomp: stomping is a lot like marching, but without the same military-precision connotation. A soldier marches; a toddler stomps. Stomping is also most likely loud and communicates anger, unhappiness, or frustration. Someone might stomp their feet to disperse some anger during a fight, for example. That said, as I indicated – the standard usage of “stomping” has a connotation of youth and unreasonableness, so if it’s used to describe a grown person, it can imply a certain juvenile inappropriateness to that person’s behavior. As such, use it carefully when describing an adult. If you don’t want to convey that the person is being petulant, it would be better to choose a different word. Stomping is similar to marching and tramping.
stump: though spelled very similarly to stomping, stumping is actually closer in meaning to limping than to stomping. Like stomping, stumping is a loud, heavy way of walking, but like limping, it implies some kind of balance issue that’s causing someone to walk unevenly. Stumping could, for example, apply to someone who has a club leg or peg leg or another historical form of prosthesis. Stumping also implies clumsiness, though, so be careful using it to apply to certain types of people because it could come off as ableist depending on the context.
stride: striding is a specific long-stepped way of walking, and includes the implication that the person who is striding is most likely tall. When used as a verb, striding will always suggest that a person is taking large, rapid steps within a deliberate way, most likely towards a destination (rather than aimlessly). When used as a noun, though, it can be a close synonym for step – “she took two steps” and “she took two strides” mean basically the same thing (though a stride is still longer – two steps would be shorter than two strides). As another way to consider a stride – in some fantasy and historical settings, “one stride” is used as a unit of measurement roughly equivalent to a yard in modern Imperial usage. It is a close synonym of hiking.
stroll: much like ambling, strolling is a casual, easy way of walking. Strolling is a little less aimless than ambling, though – “she strolled through the park” suggests that, even though she is not in a hurry, she’s also following a path and perhaps has a destination in mind. It’s still not very purposeful, but it’s a little more purposeful than meandering or ambling are. Because of how “stroll” has been used historical, it sometimes can conjure up an image of luxury and privilege – imagine an English gentleman, with his arm looped around his wife’s, and her other hand bearing a parasol. This doesn’t mean strolling shouldn’t be used in other contexts, but note that depending on those contexts, it can potentially be a little subversive – to suggest someone poor or who works very hard is strolling is to imply they have a leisure that they may not usually have access to. Strolling is a close synonym of ambling and similar to meandering.
strut: peacocks strut. Strutting is a cocky, over-confident way of walking and includes the connotation that the person (or animal) doing it is trying to show off. In that sense, it’s also often used insultingly – “just look at that jerk, strutting about like he owns the place!” However, it’s not always negative, and can be used to suggest someone is showing off in a more positive sense, like they’re proud of an accomplishment – “she put together an outfit she loved and strutted her stuff at the club.” When used as a direct replacement for walking, it would also connote a higher step, a stiff back – a certain formality (potentially to the point of ridiculousness) to the way that the person is moving.
toddle: intentionally similar to the noun “toddler,” toddling is most closely associated with the way young children or animals move when they don’t quite have control of their limbs yet. It’s clumsy, stumbling, and the person toddling likely falls a lot or needs to be supported. When not used in the specific sense of a youngster, it can apply to (for example) someone who has just stood after a long time bedridden, or who has woken up and hasn’t gotten their bearings yet. When used specifically as “toddle off,” it can be used in dialog (or, in rare instances, description, depending on the point of view character) to say someone is leaving. “Well, if we’re done here, I’ll just toddle off!” is a usage that doesn’t imply clumsiness, but rather suggests someone is leaving casually and in an unhurried manner.
traipse: traipsing is a light-hearted, fleet way of moving, closest to skipping, which isn’t on this list because skipping isn’t walking. Traipsing is bright and happy, casual and a little quick but not in a hasty/hurried sense. It’s often associated with youth. When I imagine someone traipsing, they’ve got a bright smile, a swinging skirt, and maybe a balloon – they’re joyful and spirited and their steps are carefree.
tramp: tramping is a close synonym for stomping, and suggests heavy steps. However, it doesn’t have stomping’s connotation of petulance; instead, tramping is more focused on the firmness and volume of the walking. However, because the noun “tramp” refers to a vagrant, homeless person, or someone very messy, it’s wise to use this word carefully where it’s clear that’s not the intention. While that kind of messiness is not part of the meaning of tramp as a verb, the words will still potentially evoke each other when used in narrative, so it’s best used sparingly.
troop: while it can be similar to marching – especially when used to apply to a group of people – trooping doesn’t have as much of the military implication (even though it’s the same word as “troop” = “soldier). Trooping is a steady walk, and implies covering some distance – it’s similar to plodding, though with less implication of fatigue.
trudge: trudging is very close in meaning to plodding, though it has a slightly greater implication of effort. For example, “he trudged through the deep mud” gives the sense that it’s very difficult, slow going, whereas “plodding through deep mud” would sound a little off because plodding lacks the aspect of the walking itself being a slog (Neither would actually be wrong, though, trudged would just be the better of the two to use in that context). It’s a close synonym for plodding, lumbering, but unlike those, it’s farther from shambling.
turn: “take a turn” is another historical term similar to constitutional. It’s dated for modern usage, but to “take a turn” is to go for a walk, though instead of having health-related implications, turns are more for pleasure.
Words I excluded from this post because they’re a little too far from “walk” but may still be a good word for you: advance, canter, escort, exercise, file, foot, go, hit the road, jaunt, knock about, lead, leg, locomote, parade, patrol, perambulate, promenade, prance, race, ramble, roam, rove, run, schlepp, scuff, slog, tour, traverse, tread, trek, wander, wend one’s way. All of these are great words but they’re not close synonyms for the literally act of walking.
(and a final apology…this is our first synonym stumper post and it got significantly longer than anticipated and I don’t have the brain to edit it right now…let me know if you see any mistakes, disagree with my personal sense of these words, want to add another word, or have any questions!)