Into or in to?

Posted on 10 November 2014 by Lucy Gregory

When to use ‘into’

The word ‘into’ has lots of uses. Most commonly, it’s used to indicate movement, location or direction:

He ran into a friend on the street.

She sang into the microphone.

I poured milk into my tea.

All trains into the city are cancelled.

A man walked into a bar…

But you might also use it to write about a state of change (the report was translated into German), taking part in an activity (she went into business with her sister) or becoming involved in a bad situation (we all knew he’d bring the company into disrepute).

And these are just some of the many uses.

So is there a way of knowing whether it’s ‘into’ or ‘in to’ without memorising all the definitions or reaching for a dictionary?

Look at the words either side of ‘into’/’in to’

Does ‘in’ belong to the word on its left? Or does ‘to’ belong to the word on its right? If either ‘in’ or ‘to’ is already taken, they can’t combine to become ‘into’.

Let’s look at an example: We logged in to the website.
In this sentence, ‘in’ belongs to the word ‘logged’. They combine to form the verb ‘log in’. It doesn’t make sense to write, ‘We logged into the website’ (even though there’s an element of movement here which might suggest ‘into’ is correct).
Now look at this sentence: Consumers can be locked into unfair phone contracts.

In this example, the verb is ‘locked’, not ‘locked in’. So ‘in’ is free to combine with ‘to’. However, it’s not enough for ‘in’ to be free on the left. ‘To’ has to be free on the right as well.

Here’s an example: Lisa was meant to work from home yesterday, but she came in to collect documents.

In this sentence, ‘to’ belongs to the word ‘collect’. (For those who are keen on grammar, this is because they form something called the full infinitive verb.) Anyway, since ‘to’ is already taken, it’s not free to become ‘into’.

So, to sum up…

1. Does your sentence work with one of the many definitions of ‘into’? (Check a dictionary, such as the Macmillan dictionary)
2. If it does work, is ‘in’ free to combine with ‘to’?
3. If it still works, is ‘to’ free to combine with ‘in’?