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In and Into

Commonly Confused Words

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In and Into

The preposition in generally refers to being inside something: Adam stood alone in the elevator.

The preposition into generally means movement toward the inside of something: Adam walked into the elevator.

But as discussed in the usage notes below, the meanings of in and into sometimes overlap.

Examples:

  • After waiting in the hallway for twenty minutes, I finally stepped into the manager's office.

  • On her way back from Detroit, Lee ran into a snowstorm and took a wrong turn in Flint.

  • The number-one way of getting your parents' attention is getting into trouble in school.

  • "Not only is there a distinct symbolism in the designs woven into the basket, but in some cases the basket itself is a symbol." (George Wharton James)

Usage Notes:

  • "We generally use in and on to talk about the positions of things--where they are; and into and onto to talk about directions and destinations--where things are going. Compare:
    - A moment later the ball was in in the goal.
    The ball rolled slowly into the goal. . . .

    - She's in the bedroom getting dressed.
    She ran into the room carrying a paper. . . .

    - She was walking in the garden
    Then she walked into the house.

    - The cat's on the roof.
    How does it get onto the roof?
    Note that into and onto are normally written as single words. On to is also possible in British English."
    (Michael Swan, Practical English Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 1995)


  • "Purists and grammarians have often wished that in would mean 'static location' (She was in the house) and into, 'motion to or toward' (She went into the house), but language doesn't work that neatly, and in and into overlap. Native speakers have no problem with the distinction between running in the yard and running into the yard (although note that I run into the house can be ambiguous if you weren't looking where you were going or if you were driving a car), but the nature of the verb is always important too: to tiptoe in the hall and to tiptoe into the hall obviously mean different things, but to jump in the car and to jump into the car may be only modestly different, at least for adults.

    "The combination of the verb turn with in plus to and with into can create a problem: A man can turn himself in to the police, but, unless he's a magician, he can't turn himself into a rabbit. The spelling in this instance reflects a difference in intonation, the two-word spelling being a reflection of a distinctive separation between in and to in speech. . . .

    "Into is also current slang, meaning 'interested in, excited about, or knowledgeable about,' as in She's really into birdwatching."
    (Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia Univ. Press, 1993)


  • Into and In To
    "Most of the time the choice between these is straightforward. Compare:
    They went into the theatre.
    They went in to the reception.
    The spaced form ensures that the particle is interpreted in relation to the previous verb, and adds a detail of movement that would otherwise be submerged. But in practice the solid form into is quite often used where in to might be justified, and not too much is lost. The Oxford Dictionary (1989) confirms that into served both roles in earlier centuries; and even today it is not systematically contrasted with in by all writers--though nice distinctions can be made, as between tucking someone into bed and tucking in to the pancakes."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004)

Practice:

(a) Doctor Who stepped _____ the Tardis, and ______ a moment he was gone.

(b) The chief value of money lies ______ the fact that one lives ______ a world ______ which it is overestimated.

(c) _____ five minutes you will come to a gate. Walk through the gate _____ the field.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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