Is there a difference in how the preposition "onto" is used in British and American English? I always understood it to match the following dictionary definition I found online, and was not aware of any difference in American English:

to a place or position on

In a side discussion on a different Stack Exchange site, another poster made the following claim:

Onto is English, whereas Unto is American English.

The expression that sparked this was "climb unto a pedestal". I suggested that the proper expression was "climb onto a pedestal". While it was a pointless discussion in the context, I still want to know which one is correct in American English.

  • 3
    I think the idea of a US/UK split here is almost certainly spurious. – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '14 at 20:22
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    "Do onto others as others would do onto you?" I don't think so. In both AmE and BrE, onto and unto mean different things. And pedestals are climbed onto. – Peter Shor Aug 30 '14 at 20:25
  • @PeterShor In Norfolk they have an exclamation, when surprised by something 'Good gracious onto me!' I have never worked it out and have never heard it anywhere else. – WS2 Aug 30 '14 at 20:32
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    "Suffer the little children to come onto me" evokes the image of dozens of kids piling on top of Jesus in some bizarre kind of "play fight". – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '14 at 20:40
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    @Pacerier: Idiomatically it's usually Woe is me! Or was, I should say, since all variants are at least "dated", if not actually archaic. But note that Woe unto me! does/did occur fairly often, whereas nobody ever said Woe onto me! – FumbleFingers Feb 26 '16 at 12:55

As noted the two prepositions have different meanings, and according to Goole ( see Ngram below) their usage is similar both in US and UK. You climb onto a a pedestal both in US and UK.

Onto prep:

  • On top of; to a position on; upon: The dog jumped onto the chair

  • Informal Fully aware of; informed about: The police are onto the robbers' plans.

Unto prep:

  • To.
  • Until: a fast unto death.
  • By: a place unto itself, quite unlike its surroundings.

Ngram AmE: onto, unto.

Ngram BrE: onto, unto.

Source: www.thefreedictionary.com

  • 3
    You might think "onto" is a new word from the Ngrams. It's not; 100 years ago it was spelled "on to". – Peter Shor Aug 30 '14 at 20:45
  • @PeterShor, That is so according to one analysis. – Pacerier Feb 26 '16 at 12:46

protected by tchrist May 1 '16 at 15:07

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