I noticed the preposition after 'call' while I was reading a newspaper. In my understanding, I need to use 'to' after 'call', so that we know who to call and who to answer. What are the differences between 'call to' and 'call in'?

Here is the original sentence from a news article:

"Toronto police have called in the marine unit, coast guard and a helicopter from Trenton to assist in their search for a missing Toronto DJ who fell off a boat near Scarborough Bluffs Sunday night."

Here are my sentences that I understand.

"Marine unit, coast guard and a helicopter were called by Toronto Police. Toronto Police asked them help to find missing persons."


"Toronto Police called to marine unit, coast guard and helicopter to get some help for finding missing person."

Do I understand correctly?

  • There are many nuances of call and the first stop is to look in the dictionary for examples. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 19:33
  • @WeatherVane Can you give some examples of usage of 'call in' which is the same nuances as the original sentence? This is the first time to see 'call in', so I don't get it.
    – idpokute
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 19:46
  • As I wrote, the dictionaries have examples. If the Toronto police have the authority to call in other services, that is what they do - they would only "ask" them out of politeness. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 19:47
  • You should be able to infer the meaning from the context. Where did you get the idea that call as a verb needs "to"?
    – Xanne
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:19
  • 1
    @WeatherVane If you might understand that I am asking 'call', I'm sorry to make you confused. I'm using Cambridge Dictionary, and I know the meaning of 'call'. As I wrote my question is about the differences between 'call to' and 'call in' . If I write your example sentence with 'call to' instead of 'call in', is it the exact meaning? for instance, "call to other services". Thanks in advance.
    – idpokute
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:23

2 Answers 2


'Calling in' has the sense of mustering, assembling, as in your first example. And there's the sense of bringing in, figuratively: 'It was his day off yet he was called in to work.' 'Called' in your second example would to me mean that the police telephoned the coast guard et al. 'Called to' in your third has it sounding as if the police were crying out across a distance 'Halloo! We could use some help here!' because to call 'to' someone implies that s/he is too far away to hear conversational tones. 'Call out' can imply the same.

Where I live (Ireland) though 'to call in to Siobhan' is to 'visit Siobhan' in the US sense and 'to call her out' is to point out a lie or pretense Siobhan had thought would go unnoticed.


Phrasal verbs in English are subtle; sometimes the metaphor of the preposition works and sometimes it is just arbitrary.

For 'call' there are many prepositions that can follow to give distinct meanings.

But you have found one, 'call in' that is not on that list but still common.


Toronto police have called in the marine unit...

the police have made a request to the marine unit to do something for them. This is similar to

I called in a favor from my cousin.

means I asked my cousin for a favor.

If you switch the syntax around a little:

Toronto police have called the marine unit in ...

it is more directionally metaphorical. It means the same but with a slight nuance that the marine unit is out (the opposite of in) and the police are requesting that they return or change plans and help the police out.

You can also simply call in to a neighbor for tea, meaning to visit them. The situation should disambiguate between a request (to the marine unit) and a visit (to your neighbor).

As to your title question, there is no real phrasal verb construction 'call to'. Of course, you certainly commonly use a non-phrasal verb 'call' followed by a prepositional phrase with 'to'.

I called to my brother.

which means that you yelled out loud to him.

There are phrases like 'a call to arms' but that is using 'call' as a noun.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.