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In the sentence

I have a bibliography page which I'd like to split in/into sections

which would you rather use: split in or split into?


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up vote 5 down vote accepted

There's not really a "grammatical" justification for the choice, but idiomatically, we almost always use "into" with "sections"...

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...whereas with "half", for example (there aren't many such examples), it's the other way around

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In fact, apart from "half" I'm not sure there's any other split you can make where "into" isn't preferred. If you compare split in/into two, the preference isn't quite so marked - but that's probably influenced by the unusual usage with "half". As you go to bigger numbers, the preference for "into" is overwhelmingly reasserted.

For a (weak) justification of the idiomatic preference for split into over split in, I suggest that in numerous "compound verbs" (lapse into a coma, descend into chaos, developed into full-blown AIDS, etc.), the "into" component strongly associates with "transformation" of the primary subject.

That association very much involves the "sub-component "to", which can pass muster on its own in things like turn to stone, bring to focus, etc.. With those, you can get away with "into", but you couldn't possibly use "in".

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@Robottinosino: Your question asked "Which would you rather use?" - to which any sane person would surely think "If 99% of native speakers use one form rather than the other, that's what I'd rather use". I did address the issue of "understanding", by pointing out that there's no rule of grammar or logic involved - it's idiomatic. It just so happens that "half" goes against the normal idiomatic choice. – FumbleFingers Jul 19 '12 at 21:14
Good advice. Which incantations should one perform to conjure the Guru? ;) – Robottinosino Jul 19 '12 at 21:50
@Robottinosino: haha. Apparently he was on-site only an hour ago! If you have the bottle, just find any of his existing questions and address a comment to him with a link to your question, asking if he would grace it with an answer. He's a very nice chap, so he might. On the other hand he might ignore you or give a curt reply, so you'd have to be ready to take that on the chin! – FumbleFingers Jul 19 '12 at 21:59
Nah, my chin is weak. – Robottinosino Jul 19 '12 at 22:10
@Robottinosino: A good way to avoid getting Ngrams in the answers to your questions is to do them first, and then embed them in your question. That way, everyone else can start from there, and address your concerns more directly. Just a thought. – J.R. Jul 20 '12 at 10:37

Split in sections does not make any sense - you would have to split something into sections.

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While I'm not sure if this was the OP's intention, you can have something split in two or split in three. So why exactly can't you have something split in sections? I should note that Google returns 70000 hits for "split in sections" and Books returns 908. While many of them are either used in a different context or are false positives, some of them are used for a purpose similar to what the OP is considering. – coleopterist Jul 19 '12 at 19:17
@coleopterist: Per my own answer, split in two is in fact less common than split into two, and that difference becomes even more marked with split in/into three. In fact, with possibly the sole exception of half (and by association, two), split in [anything] is exceptionally uncommon. – FumbleFingers Jul 19 '12 at 21:19

We generally use 'into' to talk about directions and destinations, while we use 'in' to talk about the positions of thing. So you have to use 'split into' in your example because the destinations of the bibliography are the sections. However we might use: (1) 'into' when we think of the division (split) itself; (2) 'in' when we think more at the end of division.

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How can I put this into words? Bob was in trouble – his dad was in jail. I'll see you in ten minutes. Tomorrow we'll be in Texas, so we'd better get our papers in order. Bears hiberate in the winter. The probability of rolling doubles is one in six. I thought I heard them speaking in Spanish! After the election, the Labour Party is still in power. Ted is into classical music. Dave stumbled into the answer accidentally. Put some thought into this: ice melts into water, and water freezes into ice. (In other words, you might have oversimplified how these two words are used in speech). – J.R. Jul 19 '12 at 19:35
@J.R. - Yes, you are correct. However I only tried to explain why 'into' IN THIS SPECIFIC case could be preferable in respect to 'in'. Thank you for the numerous examples you have provided. – user19148 Jul 19 '12 at 19:49

I think either one is acceptable.

The word in has well over 20 definitions, and one of them is into something.

So, I have no problem with divide this page into three sections. Moreover, I would accept divide this page in three sections, although the former seems to sound a bit more natural to me.

As an example of how vexing this could be, I'd probably say:

Cut this candy bar in half.

but also:

Cut this candy bar into thirds.

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Probably, in your examples (divide...into/in...) we might use 'into' when we think of the division itself, while 'in' when we think more at the end of division. – user19148 Jul 19 '12 at 20:14

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