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Into or In To—How Do I Use Them?

A common error is to confuse into, spelled as one word, with the two words in to. When deciding which is right for your sentence, remember that into is a preposition that shows what something is within or inside. As separate words, in and to sometimes simply wind up next to each other.

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A preposition is a word that shows a relationship, usually in terms of space or time, between words in a clause or phrase. Put simply, a preposition is a positioning word. Prepositions such as before, after, and since position elements in time; one thing happens before another, after another, etc. Some prepositions that position elements in space are over, under, around, through, on, off, in, and of course, into.

Generally speaking, into places something physically inside something else. The thing that does the containing may be concrete or it may be abstract.

Please put the cat into his carrier so we can go see the vet.

She placed her letter into a pink envelope and sealed it with a kiss.

Fred touched the amulet and was whisked off into another dimension.

Felicia neatly sorted all her files into separately labeled folders.

Confusion regarding into vs. in to really only arises because in our mind’s ear, the two sound exactly the same. But the decision about which one to use is usually a simple one to make. Does something wind up within something else by the end of your sentence, whether it be within something concrete, like a box, or something abstract, like a timeframe? If the answer is yes, you need to write into as one word.

Feeling more confident? Naturally, there is an exception to this rule, just to mess you up.

When “Into” Denotes Transformation

The only time when into does not involve a sense of within is when some kind of change or transformation has taken place.

The caterpillar changed into a butterfly and left its cocoon behind.

In developing countries, ceramic filters are often used to transform dirty water into clean, drinkable water.

Predictably, Cinderella’s coach turned into a pumpkin at midnight.

”In” and “To” as Neighboring Words

In and to are both prepositions or adverbs in their own right (and in may sometimes be an adjective). When they fall logically next to each other in a sentence, you may find yourself having to resist the temptation to squish them together typographically.

One pitfall appears when you use in as part of a phrasal verb. Many verbs join forces with in to form a completely new meaning. For example, to drop and to drop in are radically different actions. When an in that is part of a phrasal verb falls next to a to, accidents happen.

I dropped into say hello.

I dropped in to say hello.

Is say hello a place you can drop into and land inside of? No, it isn’t. So in and to should be written as two words. Dropped in is a phrasal verb in this case, and to is part of the infinitive to say.

Phrasal verbs used as prepositions in combination with to also cause frequent problems.

Ethan turned into the driveway and shut off the car’s engine.

Did Ethan magically transform into a driveway, and in the throes of his flatness, turn off his car’s engine? No, he didn’t. He simply maneuvered his car in to the driveway.

Ethan turned in to the driveway.

In the early days of radio, a common error was to write about tuning into a favorite station. Today, in cyberspace, the most common misstep is to write about logging into a program, operating system, app, or website.

I like to tune into the classical radio station on Sunday mornings.

I like to tune in to the classical radio station on Sunday mornings.

Please log into our website by clicking on the red icon.

Please log in to our website by clicking on the red icon.

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