Into? In To? Onto? On To? Argh!

Prepositions like into, in to, onto, and on to can drive writers crazy. Don’t worry. Correct usage is easy if you remember a few simple things.

Into, in to, onto, and on to are prepositions of direction, answering the question “where.” But not always.

 

Into starts a prepositional phrase that shows direction, movement, position, or transformation from one thing into another.

Cinderella stepped into her carriage.

Movement is to the interior of the carriage.

Cinderella’s carriage turned into a pumpkin after midnight.

The carriage transformed.

The remodeling project turned into a big mess.
Glynnis threw diced tomatoes into the salad.
Snow lingers well into June in the mountains.

Snow lingers how long? Well into June.

She went into business with her friend.

A phrasal verb… the meaning is not literal.

Jerry ran into an old friend at the auction.

A phrasal verb… the meaning is not literal.)

Often, into is interchangeable with in.

Put the old magazines in/intothe recycle bin.
The dog jumped in/into the pool.

Sometimes, into and in are not interchangeable. While in shows direction, it does not always mean movement from one thing to another as into does.

Is the dog still swimming in the pool?
Why was there more champagne in Lynette’s glass?

 

In + To act as a phrase. In is an adverb and to is a preposition. In is part of a phrasal verb, i.e., you need an adverb to complete the verb’s meaning.

Rachel dived in to rescue the struggling child.

Context suggests Rachel dived into water.

Rachel dived into the water to rescue the struggling child.
He walked in to the sound of applause.

Context suggests that he walked into a location.

He walked into the sound of applause.

 

Everyone at work chipped in to the fund for Donna’s baby shower.

But not

Everyone at work chipped into the fund for Donna’s baby shower.

 

Unsure whether to use in to or into? Say the sentence aloud. Hear which spelling/usage you need.

 

As a preposition, onto shows moving or placing “on top of.” Use it if you can add the word up before onto.

Dad climbed (up) onto the roof to retrieve the kitten.
Rodney shoved blame (up) his brother for not fixing the lawnmower.

 

Onto and the preposition on are often interchangeable.

Harry stepped on/onto the grass.
Crumbs fell on/onto the new carpet.

 

Sometimes, onto and on are not interchangeable because on means more than “on top of.”

She wrote on the book.

Meaning “in contact with,” but not

She wrote onto the book.

Meaning “wait”.

 

Hold on!

Meaning “wait”.

 

Onto and on to are not interchangeable.

She tossed the book onto (on) the desk.

But not

She tossed the book on to the desk.

 

The rain fell onto (on) the parched earth.

But not

The rain fell on to the parched earth.

 

The restaurant adds the tip onto the bill.

But not

The restaurant adds the tip on to the bill.

 

On + to act as a phrase. On is an adverb and to is a preposition. On is part of a phrasal verb. On to is casual in usage.

Pass the information about tax law changes on to your clients.

Or

Pass the information about the tax law changes to your clients.

 

We moved on to other matters.

But not

We moved onto other matters.

 

We’re having cocktails in the garden and moving on to the house for dinner.

But not

We’re having cocktails in the garden and moving onto the house for dinner.

Better

We’re having cocktails in the garden, and then we’ll have dinner in the house.

 

Sometimes context determines whether you should use onto or on to.

We drove onto the highway in the old truck.

Context suggests they got on the highway.

We drove on to the highway in the old truck.

Context suggests they drove until arriving at the highway. Then they did a different thing, e.g., pulled over for a rest stop, ate a meal, or checked the map and discovered they lost.

Unsure whether to use onto or on to? Say the sentence aloud. Hear which spelling/usage you need.

Easy peasy… lemon squeezy…

Write on!

1 thought on “Into? In To? Onto? On To? Argh!”

  1. Thanks. I’m always finding myself playing eenny menny minny moo! This is a great reminder, Annie. And the “Reading out loud.” I find that is a great eye opener, as well.

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