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By now, you’re wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. Today we’re going to tackle another preposition conundrum—“into” and “in to.”

The Short Version

Prepositions and prepositional phrases function as adjectives and adverbs. They give more detail to the nouns and verbs they are attached to. “In,” “to,” and “into” are all prepositions.

Into is a preposition that conveys transition, direction, and motion, particularly in a way that means being inside or inhabiting something else.

Here’s an example: Stephen turned into a werewolf.

In to is just an occasion where “in” and “to,” as part of two separate ideas, happen to appear next to each other in a sentence.

Used in a sentence: Stephen turned the thief in to the authorities.

Both “into” and “in to” can appear in several different contexts, so let’s take a deeper look.

When to use “Into”

Like all prepositions, “into” describes the relationship between two things. It links the main idea with a prepositional phrase that gives more detail to the main idea.

However, “into” can sometimes stand on its own, without a prepositional phrase to follow it.

  • Kevin throws a penny into the wishing well every time he walks past it.

  • There is an attic in the hallway, but it is difficult to get into.

  • Caterpillars enter a cocoon, where they transform into a butterfly.

In sentence one, “Kevin throws a penny” stands by itself. “Into the wishing well” is a prepositional phrase that gives more detail, answering the question, “where does Kevin throw the penny?” In the second sentence, “into” physically illustrates going from one place to another place. In sentence three, “into” represents “place” as a state of being. The caterpillar transitioned from one state to another.

When to use “In To”

The space between “in” and “to” is there to show you that “in” is the end of one idea, and “to” is the beginning of another.

When “to” is followed by a noun, it is a prepositional phrase. When “to” is followed by a verb, it is an infinitive.

Take this example: Mike drove to the store.

Here, “to the store” is a prepositional phrase giving more detail to “drove.” Where did Mike drive? To the store.

Here’s another example: Joel likes to cook.

In this sentence, “to cook” is an infinitive receiving the action of “likes.” Infinitives can be used in a variety of ways, but all you need to know for this lesson is that when “to” is followed by a verb, then “to” is the beginning of that idea, no “in” required.

You’re not actually using “in to” as a phrase in your writing. You’re using “in” and “to” independently of each other. They just happened to end up as neighbors in your sentence.

  • Your mother dropped in to drop off a casserole.

  • Tonight, Jane is staying in to study for her history test.

  • Before going to dinner, Margaret logged in to her online banking account to check her account balance.

In the first sentence, “in” is an adverb giving more detail to “dropped.” It answers the question “Where did your mother drop?” “To” begins a prepositional phrase that also gives more detail to “dropped,” only “to drop off a casserole” is answering the question “why did mom drop in?”

Sentence two is very similar. “In” modifies “staying,” and “to” begins an infinitive phrase. They both detail “staying,” but they give different pieces of information.

In the third sentence, “logged in” is a verb phrase. You wouldn’t say “logged” on its own. Therefore, “in” belongs to phrase “I logged in.” “To,” kicks off a prepositional phrase telling where Margaret logged in.

Pop Quiz

Here are some sample sentences to check your understanding.

  1. When Jackson Street was blocked for maintenance, we had to find another way to get (into, in to) the city.

  2. Kelly’s office is bringing a consultant (into, in to) make the office’s workflow more efficient.

  3. At Thanksgiving, Jim’s family fell (into, in to) the same old argument about politics they always have.

  4. The burglars broke (into, in to) steal Blake’s photography equipment.

  5. The burglars broke (into, in to) Blake’s house.

  6. Once the sauce is boiling, transfer it (into, in to) a medium-sized pot and mix with the pasta.

  7. Don’t worry, I won’t be long in the store. I’m just running (into, in to) pick up an eggplant.

  8. Jamie got really (into, in to) the band Widespread Panic last year.

  9. Were you there when Danny hit the baseball (into, in to) the upper deck last year?

  10. You’ve got to jump right (into, in to) learn quickly.

Answers: 1. into, 2. in to, 3. into, 4. in to, 5. into, 6. into, 7. in to, 8. into, 9. into, 10. in to