A Most Mysterious Case: into vs. in to

Victorian Fashion

Not that long ago, the very talented proprietress of Goodbye Whoopie Pie, asked me to explain the difference between “into” and “in to” — which is a great question! Many people are uncertain about when to use which, while others believe they are interchangeable.

They are definitely some tricky little words, but I will endeavour to bring a little clarity to their respective uses.

The first thing I want to address is how the word into came to be. Originally, it was always written as two separate words, but in the 1600s the word into was born. It was formed by joining the adverb in with the preposition to.

Now, both in and to can act as adverbs or as prepositions. So let’s have a look at the different meanings:

In as an Adverb
When in is used as an adverb, its meaning implies a position within limits or motion to such a position. Not only that, but there will also be a verb close by that the in is modifying.

  • Carlotta is not in at the moment. The Victorian look is in these days. The Duke was thrilled because the deal was finally locked in.

In as a Preposition
When in is used as a preposition, its meaning denotes inclusion or position within limits of space, time, etc.

  • in this century, in 6 hours, in the political party, written in blood.

To as an Adverb
When to is used as an adverb, its meaning refers to the normal or required position or condition of something. And, as with the adverbial in, there will be a verb that it modifies nearby.

  • Come to the castle, but go to that Occult shop first.

To as a Preposition
When to is used as a preposition, its purpose is to introduce a noun.

  • drove to Hell, danced to the music, turned to stone

Okay, if you’re still with me, let’s get back to the original question.

Into may be the child of an adverb and a preposition, but its function is all preposition. When used in a sentence, it expresses motion, direction or a change in state.

  • walked into a wall, looked into the charges, changed into a werewolf.

Into has also been used colloquially, since the 1960s, to express an intense involvement in something.

  • That guy is really into vampires.

When the words in and to are used in a sentence, in acts as an adverb and modifies a verb, while to acts as an adverb or a preposition with its own object. Look at the examples below:

  • He came in to warm his hands at the fire.
  • She turned her assignment in to the professor.

In the first example, in modifies the verb came and to modifies the verb warm. In the second example in modifies the verb turned and professor is the object of to. If you try replacing the two words with into, your sentence will sound strange or downright magical. Check it out:

  • He came into warm his hands at the fire.
  • She turned her assignment into the professor.

That’s quite a trick! Wonder if she got extra marks for that?

So there you have it — in to vs. into — definitely not interchangeable!


Image credit: Godey’s Fashion, 1874 / Fashion-Era

6 thoughts on “A Most Mysterious Case: into vs. in to

  1. Finally, I get it. Thirty eight years and numerous teachers/professors/exasperating discussions with myself later, I finally get it. Thank you Suzanne, very much. 🙂

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