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"Into" (one word) and "in to" (two words) are frequently confused. In what situations should the former be used? The latter?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 47 down vote accepted

You should use "into" when it's a question of location, for lack of a better word. "I went into the store," "We went into the field of computer science," "We drank well into the morning," etc..

"In to" just happens sometimes. "I went in to buy some milk." In that sentence the "to" is part of the infinitive "to buy."

If you aren't sure which one to use, change the "in" to "in order" and see if it still works. "I went in order to the store" is wrong, but "I went in order to buy some milk" is good.

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+1 for the "in order" trick –  Pops Aug 6 '10 at 4:40
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@Lord Torgamus: ...but the "in order" trick is often misleading: "I chimed in to the discussion" (phrasal verb "chime in" - "in order" won't fit, and yet it would not be right to say "*I chimed into the discussion"). Similarly, "I walked in to the sound of music playing" - the verb is "walked in"; "in order" won't fit, and yet "*I walked into the sound of music playing" isn't right. (And it can go wrong the other way too - one could say "I delivered the mail in order to the boxes" - meaning I did it in a specific order - but that sort of trick is usually easy enough to spot :-) –  psmears Mar 3 '11 at 21:41
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@psmears: You're right. The "in order" trick is far from infallible, but it works pretty well most of the time. Any "rule" you can come up with for the English language is going to have holes in it a truck (at least) could drive through. In this case, verbs that take the preposition "in" are the main culprits, but as you note there are other possible exceptions, and I'm sure there are even more no one would think of until they came across it and got stuck in the question...As faulty as the rule is, it's still a reasonable place to start, at least until something better comes along. :) –  kitukwfyer Mar 14 '11 at 20:16
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@kitukwyfer: I was actually thinking about this earlier - I think it works better if you state it as "If you can change the to to in order to, without significantly changing the meaning, then it needs to be in to - but not necessarily vice versa". What do you think? –  psmears Mar 14 '11 at 22:05
    
@psmears: That works well enough, but I figure just knowing that there are always exceptions works just as well...Like with that i before e rule. No matter how many conditions and refinements get tacked on, it still misses something or other. At the end of the day, in my opinion, the original, simplest form is the best, with the understanding that it's not perfect and never will be... –  kitukwfyer Mar 14 '11 at 23:26

Broadly speaking, in refers to something that already exists inside something, while into implies motion from outside to inside.

Dexter was in the room at the time of the murder.

Dexter went into the room shortly before the murder.

People often use in instead of into, especially if in is preceded by an adverb:

Max went down in the mine with the rest of the crew.

This is an informal usage, but you will hear it a lot. Nevertheless, if you follow the general rule listed in my first sentence, you should be able to understand the difference and make yourself understood.

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This is explained in the book called "Common Errors in English Usage" by Paul Brians:

“Into” is a preposition which often answers the question, “where?” For example,

“Tom and Becky had gone far into the cave before they realized they were lost.”

Sometimes the “where” is metaphorical, as in,

“He went into the army”

or

“She went into business.”

It can also refer by analogy to time:

“The snow lingered on the ground well into April.”

In old-fashioned math talk, it could be used to refer to division:

“Two into six is three.”

In other instances where the words “in” and “to” just happen to find themselves neighbors, they must remain separate words. For instance,

“Rachel dived back in to rescue the struggling boy.”

Here “to” belongs with “rescue” and means “in order to,” not “where.” (If the phrase had been “dived back into the water,” “into” would be required.)

Try speaking the sentence concerned aloud, pausing distinctly between “in” and “to.” If the result sounds wrong, you probably need “into.”

Then there is the 60s colloquialism which lingers on in which “into” means “deeply interested or involved in”:

“Kevin is into baseball cards.”

This is derived from usages like “the committee is looking into the fund-raising scandal.” The abbreviated form is not acceptable formal English, but is quite common in informal communications.

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Related colloquialisms: "to be big into", as in "Kevin is big into baseball cards", means that it's among one's principal interests or involvements. "To be into" also denotes "to like romantically/sexually", referring to a person, an action, or a philosophy or subculture. In the negative, it implies that you are not a fan of something that is popular among certain people: "I'm not into rollercoasters". Quite versatile, that phrasal. –  Jon Purdy Nov 2 '10 at 14:39
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The pausing trick is great. +1 –  Luke Jul 6 '12 at 15:10

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