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Into or in to

Confusing into and in to among natives and non-natives happens all the time. Knowing the difference only requires you to know the grammatical differences between ‘into’ and in to’ which is very simple.

(1) ‘Into’ is a preposition. A preposition by definition is a function word that typically combines with a noun phrase to form a phrase which usually expresses modification or predication’ -Merriam Webster. In other words, prepositions show direction, location, time, or introduce an object. ‘Into’ is strictly a preposition and shows a relationship between space or time. ‘Into’, as a preposition, is used to describe putting a thing or a person into something else. 
  • The child got into trouble at school. (School = something else) (‘get in’ isn’t a phrasal verb)
  • We found a way to get into the building. (Building = something else)
  • She put the phone into a parcel. (Parcel = something else) (‘phone in’ isn’t a phrasal verb)
  • We left the office into another room. (Another room = something else) (‘office in’ isn’t a phrasal verb, and ‘office obviously isn’t a verb)
(2)In’ and ‘to’ are also two separate words, both prepositions, and adverbs. When they are separated in a sentence (correctly), it is because both words are two words acting differently. This usually occurs with phrasal verbs for example, when ‘in’ actually forms part of the phrasal verb, and acts as an adverb, and ‘to’ either acts as a preposition and takes an object or it forms part of the infinitive, for example; ‘to know’.

My friend turned in to the car park with his new Mustang. (turn in = phrasal verb, and ‘to’ is an adverb of direction here)

  • Patrick logged in to my website to see how it worked.  (log in = phrasal verb)
  • I’m in to win the competition. (‘to’ = part of the infinitive ‘to win’)
  • Dad ran in to find some scissors. (ran in = phrasal verb, and ‘to’ is part of the infinitive ‘to find’) (You could say; ‘dad ran into the house’. ‘into acts as one preposition here, and indicates movement). 
  • I walked in to listen to what the lecturer was saying. (walk in = phrasal verb, and ‘to’= part of the infinitive, ‘to listen’)
  • A thief broke in to steal my belongings. (break in = phrasal verb, and ‘to’ is part of the infinitive ‘to steal’. The sentence could be different using ‘into’. You could say ‘A thief broke into my house’. ‘Into’, functions as one word, a preposition. The thief went from a place to another place/something else). 
(3) Remember, ‘to + infinitive’ (to know, to see, etc) is used in the sense of ‘in order to’. For example;
  • I went to the shop to buy some groceries. = I went to the shop in order to buy some groceries.
  • She came in to see me. = She came in in order to see me.

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