Into vs. In To: How to Tell the Difference

This summer, I joined an outdoor rec volleyball league with some complete strangers from my church. Three months later, the season is over, which is kind of a bummer to me, because I love volleyball. I never played in high school or college, except for intramurals, but every summer at camp we’d play at least once, and as soon as I figured out the intramurals system in college, I was all in. Last summer I hung out with a group who would meet once a week during the summer and play pick-up until the sun started to set, and then this summer, I got semi-serious with the league. We’ve talked about continuing to play this fall too. Volleyball has just been a really easy sport for me to get into.

Get into? Get in to? Wait, which one is it?

Monks Playing Volleyball

Apparently, I’m not the only one getting in to volleyball. Or is it into? Photo by Sukanto Dabnath (Creative Commons)

There is a fair amount of confusion surrounding into and in to, but they’re used in two different circumstances.

Into Is Followed By a Noun

Into is a preposition that indicates that something is moving towards the inside of something. It’s almost always followed by a noun or a noun phrase. Kyle the basset hound got stuck while trying to sneak into the vegetable garden. Laura’s teenage cousin was relieved that she didn’t have to go into the principal’s office when she escorted her best friend there.

Into also works when you’re speaking abstractly. In the above example talking about volleyball, clearly no one is physically climbing inside the sport of volleyball. When people talk about music that they’re really into, they haven’t found a room made of noises that they’re in the process of taking shelter in. In this case, into is part of a verb phrase: “to be into”. This also occurs in the verb phrase “to look into”, meaning to investigate, and “to turn into”, which should only be used if you are Harry Potter and are capable of making your pet owl become a motorcycle sidecar.

In To Is Followed By a Verb

In to, on the other hand, is the preposition in followed by the word to, usually at the beginning of an infinitive verb (such as “to spike”) or as a new preposition. Chloe looked in to see what her brother’s pet ocelot was up to. Chester the cat stayed in to stay dry and out of the rain.

A good way to determine if you’re going to split the two is to consider in to as a three-word phrase: in order to. It doesn’t work all the time, but it’s a solid rule of thumb, and can help distinguish the difference between two robbers breaking into a safe, and two robbers breaking in to steal the President of Burundi’s rubies. The English language always keeps you on your toes.

PRACTICE

There’s a hole somewhere. Maybe it’s in the ground, maybe it’s in space, maybe it’s in a fence, but it’s there. Write for fifteen minutes about that hole, using into and in to properly as often as you can. Post your practice in the comments and leave some feedback for your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

Join the Community!

If this post helped you improve at the craft, consider subscribing. It’s fast, free, and you’ll make our day:

You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts.