WUOMFM

When "into" splits in two

Nov 5, 2017

One word or two? That's the question.

At least, that's the question a listener named Nancy posed to us this week. She wanted to know when "into" should be written as one word, and when it should be two. 

Nancy isn't the only one around here who's experienced grief over this everyday grammar quandary.

Suffice to say, we were happy to dig into this one. 

"Into" has a few meanings, but it basically indicates movement or direction. It can mean "toward the inside of" as in "she walked into the classroom." It can also mean "in the direction of" such as "I turned into the wind."

When you're trying to figure out whether "into" should be two words, the first question you should ask yourself is whether a phrasal verb is present. In other words, is the "in" part of the verb as opposed to being a preposition? 

Think about "turn in," as in what you would do with an essay:  "I turned my essay in to the teacher yesterday." 

The phrasal verb is "turn in." Since "in" is part of that phrase, it needs to stay separate from "to."

If you write "I turned my essay into the teacher" instead, you may get a bunch of questions about how you managed to transform a piece of paper into a person.

Are there other deceptively small grammar issues plaguing your day-to-day existence? Let us know at rkruth@umich.edu or acurzan@umich.edu.