What are the differences between "unto" and "to"? It seems that in many contexts where the word "unto" is used, "to" could be substituted and would be perfectly correct. It reminds me of flammable/inflammable, where "flammable" came into use because the "in" in "inflammable" caused people to think that it meant not inflammable. Is this a similar situation?

4 Answers 4


To did not come from unto (if anything, vice versa), so the situation is not the same as with flammable and inflammable. Though to is an older form, unto was never as prevalent, and is now either archaic, or used in limited contexts, such as shown here (Idiom: unto itself).

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    The curious may find examples illustrating the wide range of early senses of unto here. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 18:09

The origin of unto, as reported from the Oxford English Dictionary is the following:

ORIGIN: from until preposition with to preposition replacing northern equivalent till preposition.

Therefore, the relation between to and unto is not the same relation there is, e.g., between touchable and untouchable.  

One of the meaning of unto reported from the same dictionary is until, till. The dictionary reports also that unto indicates "regular recurrence within specified units of time, as day unto day."

Doctor Manley…praises Kate unto this day.—I. Maclaren

  • Though to can replace unto anywhere it appears in your examples, so unto still sounds a little archaic, even in those contexts. The only times unto is still used are in idioms, where it cannot be replaced by to (as in the idiom "it is a [noun] unto itself").
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 18:30

In the King James "unto" seems a bit like placing something like a gift or idea or anything with some kind of substance unto the person, place or thing/idea of acceptance. exp..."the river flows over the banks and unto the road" or "I wrote a letter unto you" Now the word "to" is more of an expression in grammer in which the person, place or thing/idea is directly or indirectly expressed. exp..."I went into my room to write a letter unto you" I went to write unto you.

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage. I find your answer a bit hard to follow. You might want to reread it and be more precise about your sources. If you're going to cite to the King James translation of the Bible, why don't you consider using actual verses as examples and then comparing them to more modern translations of the same verses? Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 14:41
  • The KJV is the first place where I found unto used regularly instead of to. I am looking forward this explanation. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 13:15

"Unto" is just an older form of "To".

I've never seen anything to suggest that there was a confusion regarding "unto/to" akin to "inflammable/flammable".

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