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I'm reading a great book by a copy editor on grammar and style, but one of his tips has confused me. I have tried doing some research, but I've only become more puzzled.

He says that turning in to a driveway is "a natural thing to do with one's car" but that turning into a driveway is a "Merlin trick", suggesting the latter is wrong because it implies you have transformed yourself from a human into a driveway (which will almost always not be what you want to imply).

However, based on my understanding of the difference between "into" and "in to", this just doesn't make sense to me. Yes, "Into" can mean transform, but it's also a preposition that means moving towards and entering a location. When you turn into a driveway, you are moving into another location, so by this definition, "I turned into the driveway" makes perfect sense. I'm struggling to see how it should be any more incorrect than writing "I walked into the building."

Can someone please explain why "into" is the incorrect choice? (The author of the book doesn't go into any more detail.)

I realise this is similar to this question – Turn "in to" or "into" a lonely lane? – but, as far as I can tell, the answers and comments don't explain why "turn into" is wrong.

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  • Given that the context was style (not strict grammar "rules"), is it possible the author was merely suggesting that "into a driveway" is more likely to confuse readers than "in to a driveway"? Picking the less confusing of two otherwise acceptable choices seems like very normal stylistic advice.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 20:47
  • @Juhasz Yes, possibly, although he said it quite matter-of-factly as to imply "into a driveway" was just plain wrong.
    – JJ_Doogal
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 21:10
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    You have to make up this kind of nonsensical statement if you want to sell books. Here's a blog on the topic.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 22:07
  • If your only purpose is to avoid confusion, just say "made a turn into" or "made a turn towards" .
    – banuyayi
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 11:49

3 Answers 3

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but, as far as I can tell, the answers and comments don't explain why "turn into" is wrong.

That's because it isn't wrong; if anything, "turn in to a driveway" is incorrect. There's no reason for thinking that "turn into" always means "transform into."

I'm reading a great book by a copy editor on grammar and style

"Great" may be an overstatement.

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The copy editor is incorrect and too rigid in seeking to avoid a formal ambiguity that is contextually absurd.

I suggest that correct/incorrect is not a helpful classification. We should be more concerned with meaning and clarity than with bipolar classification of our English. In this case:

Cambridge
into preposition:
in the direction of something or someone

or:

Collins
into preposition:
If you go into a place or vehicle, you move from being outside it to being inside it.
I have no idea how he got into Iraq.
She got up and went into an inner office.
He got into bed and started to read.

So to turn into a driveway is to turn in the direction of it, to enter it.

The ambiguity is formal but, given the context, not real. For example, the same thing arises with
"He changed into his pyjamas".

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I can't explain why "into" is the incorrect choice. Because it isn't.

The problem - if there is one - would be caused by the ambiguity of the word "turning". As you've said, does it mean changing direction or transforming?

This will usually be established by context. Unless a lot of people have recently transformed into inanimate objects, readers are likely to consider it in a similar way to "going into a shop" or "walking into a tree". Confusion is unlikely.

The author of the book seems (to me) to be stretching a point, and confusion could also be intentionally developed with interpretations of the preposition "to". Does it mean "in the direction of" or "as understood by", as used in "these views would seem left-wing to a fascist"? Many more opportunities for constructed misinterpretation exist.

There's also the [verb + preposition] = [single verb] ambiguity with "turning in" (sometimes hyphenated).

"Going to bed in a manner that a driveway would understand"? Clearly ridiculous. (I'm being silly for the sake of illustrating a point : just like the author, though I'm less certain that they were aware of it.) ["A pillow of chipped stone and a fresh cover of asphalt? That's turning in to a driveway."]

"Turn into a driveway" isn't wrong, and is no less correct than "I walked into the building".

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    Nice of someone to upvote. I thought such an old question was almost dead, but I enjoyed thinking about it.
    – Anton
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 21:55
  • Looks like we're all crawling out of the woodwork now. No idea why we missed it first time around. Commented May 3, 2023 at 21:57

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