Say this word aloud: into.
Now say these two words aloud: in to.
They sound exactly the same when you say them, right? Yet the one-word into and the two-word phrase in to have different meanings and usages in the English language. Let’s break them down together.
The word into is a preposition that is used to describe where something is going.
A preposition is a part of speech that describes where an object is in relation to something else. Examples of other prepositions are below, inside, through, and under.
When we use the word into, we are describing one thing that is going inside another thing. So when you are deciding whether to use into or in to, think about whether you are describing the movement of placing an object inside another object. If so, what you want to use is the word into.
Examples of Into
Dorothy slipped her feet into the ruby slippers.
The pirate slowly lowered the treasure chest into a deep pit in the sand.
The girl jumped into the pool to cool off.
Sir Lancelot plunged his sword into the dragon’s heart.
An Exception with Into
OK, we have established that when we use the preposition into, it is because we are describing one thing going inside another thing, or something ending up within something else. An exception to this is when we are describing a transformation, whether it is physical or abstract.
Examples of this are:
The green caterpillar transformed into a yellow-and-black butterfly.
The hot oven quickly changed the cookie dough into pillowy golden treats.
When I added a cup of vinegar to the pile of baking soda, it turned into a spewing volcano.
By itself, the word in can be used as an adverb, preposition, adjective, or noun. (That’s a versatile word right there!)
The word to by itself can be used as a preposition, adverb or part of an infinitive verb phrase, such as to jump.
When these words end up next to each other, they are used as part of a verb phrase — they are still two separate words. Generally speaking, you can replace the words in to with the phrase in order to and the sentence will still make sense.
Examples of In To
I just dropped in to say “hello.”
Mom likes to tune in to CBS news on Sunday mornings.
Please log in to your computer to complete the online purchase.
An Added Cue for In To: Phrasal Verbs
A phrasal verb is a verb that is made up of two words. An important thing to note is that when the word to comes after a phrasal verb ending with in, we keep in to as two separate words. You can think of phrasal verbs as word pairs, and you wouldn’t want to break them up by changing in to into. So what we do instead is keep the word pair together and add the word to.
Some examples of phrasal verbs ending with in are:
- Move in
- Give in
- Break in
- Fill in
- Log in
- Join in
- Hang in
Tip To Remember for Into vs. In To
If you are describing an object moving into another place or object, or something that is transforming, use the preposition into. Otherwise, use the two words in to.
Susan is an English educator, editor, and writer who has enjoyed working within these fields since 2004. Her experience includes teaching at the high school and adult continuing education levels, and writing and editing for multiple regional publications, including Wrightsville Beach Magazine and Encore Magazine. Today she is a copywriter and editor for CastleBranch Inc., as well as editor in chief for the company’s internal e-magazine. A Southern transplant who moved from Ohio to North Carolina, she has embraced the word “y’all” and can tell you how she likes her grits. Check out her official website.