I’m onto You

I sometimes have trouble with the preposition onto. Some of the time it’s pretty easy to know when I mean on to (two words), but other times I’m not so sure. The way most will explain it is if you can precede onto with the word up, then it’s one word: The dog jumped onto the table. That’s pretty clear. It implies a positioning on something. Here are some instances where you want two words:

• Hold on to my arm.
• Get on to the next part, please.
• Let’s move on to better things.
• Please hold on to this bag for me

But you do say:

• Hook the wire onto the nail
• They’re onto us (colloquial).

Into is a lot easier, but writers still mess it up. We say take into account, go into teaching, get into trouble, late into the night, run into a wall, look up into the sky. But you don’t want to “turn yourself into the police” because that would require a cool magic trick to transform yourself like that. And you don’t give into my demands because to “give in” is a verb-preposition combo structure. Just like you don’t fall into line. You “fall in” to line.

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  1. I tend to avoid confusion and in the process, kill some wordiness.
    Hold my arm.
    Next part, please.
    Let’s move to better things.
    Please hold this bag.
    Hook the wire around the nail.
    The into examples are harder to avoid. But I’d join the line and search the sky while I was there.

  2. Funny — you posted this right in a month that “into” v “in to” has been driving me crazy. No matter how practiced we are with grammar, it’s funny how moody words can get on us. I like the “up” trick with onto.

    1. Glad this will help. There are so many little grammar rules and tips that you could spend a lifetime studying them (which I kind of do since I’m a copyeditor!) but keeping a notebook and writing some of the annoying ones down helps me a lot. I end up looking up the same ones over and over again for some reason. They just don’t stick!

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