I love wine. If you didn’t know that, perhaps you’re one of the three people reading this blog with whom I’ve never interacted on social media or in person. In honor of your newbie status, welcome! My personal motto is “Alcohol may not solve your problems, but neither will water or milk.” You’re welcome to borrow it.
Sadly though, today’s post is not about wine. It’s also not about religion. (Spoiler alert: None of my posts will ever be about religion.) And despite the lack of theology in this topic, I do have to make a confession. I never gave much thought to “into” vs “in to” or “onto” vs “on to” until one day I was asked to explain the difference on Twitter. Which means I had 140 characters to make it clear. I’m going to use more than 140 characters here because y’all love it when I ramble. Or at least I think you do. If you don’t, shhhh, don’t kill my buzz.
The easiest way to explain when to use “into” is that it is used to indicate movement inside of a place or transformation into another object. “It got hot on the porch, so she took her book and her glass of wine into the house.” or “When her wine rack became empty, she sure wished her superpower was turning water into wine.” In the first example, I’m using directionality; the woman is walking inside the house. In the second, transformation; the woman wants to create wine out of another liquid. (You can’t do this. I’ve tried. Sorry.)
“In to” is equally as direct in its meaning. “In order to not flunk out of college, she set an alarm early for the morning after her twenty-first birthday so her paper could be turned in to her professor on time.” This isn’t Harry Potter, and she is not in fact creating a professor out of the paper of her assignment. She is turning it in. To the professor.
A great many grammar blogs like to say “in to” is the adverb “in” followed by the preposition “to,” but I find when you’re trying to make the right wording choice, thinking about parts of speech makes things unnecessarily complicated. In simpler terms, when you’re using “in to,” “in” is part of the verb. “She broke in to her parents’ wine cellar.” Your verb here is “broke in,” just like it was “turn in” in the example in the previous paragraph. There is no movement or directionality in either of these uses which is why “into” would not be correct. Due to its status as part of the verb, the “in” shuns “to” as a lesser entity. Kind of like how I feel about Riesling.
“Onto” is actually much easier – at least for me. Like its cousin “into,” “onto” is used for position or movement. “Onto” means “on top of” or “upon.” “She put the wineglass onto the coaster.” I find when I’m making a decision about whether “onto” is correct, I position “up” of “down” before it and see if the sentence still works. In the previous sentence, the wineglass is now on top of the coaster. (I love coasters. I finally had to stop buying them.) She set it down on the coaster, or put it up on the coaster. Both are correct. In most cases, you can do another quick little test to confirm your word choice. If you can use “on” instead of “onto,” you’re golden. “She decided not to get on the motorcycle because she’d drunk a lot of wine.” Both “on” or “onto” would be correct, meaning this sentence is grammar perfection. Also, an important lesson about not drinking and driving.
Also, though less commonly used, “onto” can mean “fully aware of” as in “When she saw the cases of wine in the closet, she was onto their surprise party scheme.”
For “on to,” again it works like “in to” in that “on” would be part of the verb. “She logged on to Julia’s Facebook account to stalk a guy friend of Julia’s she had met at a wine tasting.” Your verb is “log on” so the “to” is its own word, pushed aside like I do bottles of Gewürztraminer (which is a wine varietal a lot like Riesling, so if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. Don’t say I never taught you anything. Wine types and grammar all in one place!)
OK, this was a lot of information all in one post, so don’t think you’re going to get this right 100% of the time once you’ve finished reading it. When I’m editing, one of the last things I do before returning a piece is to search through the document for all four of these word options and check their usage. It’s very easy to skim over these tiny words, but using them correctly yields big dividends. Kind of like too much wine will yield a big hangover. Not that I know anything about that...
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Originally published June 20, 2014