Editors Blog

Into vs. In To

into-vs-in-toQ: Can you explain when to use “into” versus when you should use “in to”? —Char

Using “into” and “in to” interchangeably is a very common grammar faux pas—heck, my sister commits this grandiose error in e-mails at least twice a day and, despite my attempts to sic the grammar police on her, she continues to write recklessly. But if you understand their individual definitions, it’s easy to pick the right word to convey your true meaning and avoid the grammar police altogether.

The word “into” is a preposition that expresses movement of something toward or into something else. I made it into work a few minutes early today. The tooth fairy tucked the tooth into her pocket before placing a $1 bill under my daughter’s pillow.

“In to,” on the other hand, is the adverb “in” followed by the preposition “to.” They aren’t really related and only happen to fall next to each other based on sentence construction. My boss sat in to audit the meeting. The tooth fairy came in to collect my daughter’s tooth.

One trick to help you decipher which word (or word pairing) is correct is to think of it this way: “Into” usually answers the question “where?” while “in to” is generally short for “in order to.” So look at your sentence and replace “into” or “in to” with “where?” If the second half of your sentence answers it, use “into.” If it doesn’t, replace “where” with “in order to.” If that works, use “in to.” Here is this method put into practice:

The tooth fairy put my daughter’s tooth where? Ah—into her pocket.

The tooth fairy came in where? To collect my daughter’s tooth? Hmm … that doesn’t work. The tooth fairy came in order to collect my daughter’s tooth.

Grammar police, rest easy—we’ve got this one under control.

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19 thoughts on “Into vs. In To

  1. Keith Dickens

    What about this statement? It doesn’t seem to fit either question?

    “The Employee Activity Committee is looking into alternatives and they will proved employees with details in the near future.”

    Neither “where?” or “in order to” seem to fit. The ‘where’ version asks “The Employee Activity Committee is looking where?” which is valid, but the answer is not a physical location and doesn’t express movement. In circumstances where word use in a sentence doesn’t fit the the rules I will frequently take it as sign that the sentence is structured incorrectly to begin with. Should the sentence wording be modified or is the ‘where’ answer still correct even though logically it’s rather nonsensical?

  2. dtommy79

    A slightly different question. What’s the difference between into and in

    For example:

    A bird flew into the kitchen through the window.

    A bird flew in the kitchen through the window.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      It’s “into” if it’s coming from outside.

      If a bird flew in the kitchen, it means the bird is currently flying in the kitchen. The sentence would have to be recast: A bird flew in the kitchen above us after first coming through the window.

  3. rampmg

    I live in an area where ‘when’ and ‘whenever’ are used interchangeably. It drives me crazy, especially when I hear teachers do it. Typical example:

    “Whenever I went to Walmart yesterday, I bought a gallon of milk.”

    “Did you go multiple times?”

    “No, just once.”

    Am I a snob to yearn for a semblance of proper grammar?

  4. pbsee3

    Dear Mr. Klems:

    The word you meant to use is “sic” not “sick.” The latter indicates a weakened physical condition; the former means to incite someone to attack.

    Dear Katherineamabel: Please use the following: “vs.” to mean “versus,” and “e.g.” instead of “eg.” Also, check to see if you really need to use “i.e.” instead of “e.g.” in any given context.

  5. ceeess

    gee. I would have said I made it in to work. Thinking that I am not actually inside the work… but that I made it in, in order to work… most of the time, I have a clear idea on the difference between in to and into. This one makes it fuzzy logic for me.

    Carol

    1. safienwijon

      If you used “in to” it would read something like this:

      “I made it in order to work”

      Take note that you required an extra “in” in order to make your sentence work.

      “Thinking that I am not actually inside the work… but that I made it in, in order to work…”

      You added a comma and a second “in”. Take that second “in” and comma out and the sentence no longer makes sense.

      1. bwhughes

        I also have a disagreement about this one. That’s because I think it could be quite proper to say, “I made it to work a few minutes early today.” When you make it to something, you reach a goal… you arrive somewhere. “He made it to the top of the mountain,” for example.

        At the same time, you could be thinking that you’re going IN somewhere to work, which is why one would naturally express going IN.

        It doesn’t look right to me to say, “I made it into work a few minutes early today.” That looks to me like you’re turning something else into work!

        I’m going to continue to prefer, “I made it in to work a few minutes early today.” I made it in today. Where did I make it to? I made it to work.

        I suppose you could just leave off “in” altogether. But making it in to work sounds more like natural speech. I really do think that this is an acceptable exception to this otherwise logical rule.

      2. B.J. Roth

        In this case it really depends on what you mean:

        You can go into work if work is a place that you go into, but you can go in to work if work is a thing that you do after you go in.

    1. Lynx Firenze

      Not really much of a grammar Nazi so I might be wrong but to me, to dust implies transmutation whereas into dust implies directing them into a big pile of dust, one of those is a painful death and the other is just unpleasant…. as I said, not a grammar Nazi, just giving my thoughts on the matter.

      Note to all the grammar Nazis who are probably composing a list of corrections to my punctuation etcetera, the average idiot on the street doesn’t know enough about punctuation to question it so I really stopped caring particularly, that didn’t read right to me but wth (sticks tongue out at inevitable repercussions of questionable use of a bad acronym)

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