Into or In To?

NOTE: All these articles are based on British grammar and the techniques I used to help myself, they are by no means definitive.


In to/into is another of the instances where the English language likes to push words together to denote different meanings based on the context. Once again though, the problem is remembering which way these different uses go round.

I find the easiest way is to think of ‘into’ as meaning ‘going into a place’ whereas ‘in to’ means ‘going in to do something’. However, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee we’ll get it right because there is the logic that when we ‘go in to do something’ we’re probably still ‘going into a place’. What it depends upon is whether or not we’re referring to the place or what we’re ‘going in to do’:

‘I went into the house for dinner.’

‘I went in to dinner.’

In the first example with could be going into the house to have dinner but we’re referring to the place not the act. Similarly, when we go in to dinner we could be going into the house for dinner again but we’ve referred to what we’re ‘going in to do’ not where we’re doing it. For instance:

‘I went into the café for lunch.’

‘I went in to lunch.’

Or:

‘I went into the shop to buy a book.’

‘I went in to buy a book.’

It might be important to note that when we refer to ‘going into a place’ we don’t have to say what we’re ‘going in to do’, I’m merely doing so to help demonstrate the difference. We could also have:

‘I went into the shop.’

‘I went in to buy a book.’

The version of in to/into we use remains the same it simply depends on whether we’re referring to place or act.

‘Into’ also has another variation where we can replace it with ‘in’, this can be a little tricky depending upon whether or not we’re writing ‘correct’ grammar or ‘colloquial’ grammar. For instance:

‘I went into the shop.’ [‘Correct’]

‘I went in the shop.’ [‘Colloquial’]

However, if we’re referring to the act of putting something into something else then we can use into or in and still be considered ‘correct’:

‘I put the ticket into my pocket.’ [‘Correct’]

‘I put the ticket in my pocket.’ [‘Correct’]

Just to confuse the issue this doesn’t always work because changing ‘into’ to ‘in’ can imply a different act to the one we intended depending upon what we’re referring to. Such as:

‘They drove into the carpark.’ [The act of driving into the carpark]

‘They drove in the carpark.’ [May also mean the act of driving around in the carpark]

The problem here is that we can say based on context ‘well, the reader knows I mean they went into the carpark’ but I can guarantee someone will point out that someone will take this as ‘they were driving around in the carpark’. If you’re wondering my love of the colloquial didn’t win this logic argument in a creative writing workshop. Here we encounter a divide between writing as clearly as possible and the character’s voice.

Personally, I would argue that if that is how the character speaks then that is how they speak and based upon this context, if we’ve formed the character’s voice consistently, the reader will understand whether or not they meant they went into the carpark or we’re already in it. The counter argument was that it should be written grammatically correct in the first instance so people will know that we know the correct way and then can be written colloquially in all other instances. Based upon the original point I could say ‘yes, I see your point’ on the second one I was left wondering why a character would use the ‘correct’ form the first time and the ‘colloquial’ form the rest of the time. Another variation was that when writing subjective/first-person narration I should have the character speak ‘colloquially’ and the prose be ‘correct’.

If I’m writing in a character’s voice not my own I’m not bothered about proving I know the ‘correct’ way because the character isn’t speaking that way. As I like to imagine the character is telling the reader the story, as in speaking it to them, not writing it down, I don’t hold with the argument that the prose should be different from their dialogue, to me this seems inconsistent.

If you’re wondering why I’ve told you this if I don’t agree with it and it could muddy the waters for you it’s as an example of the arguments writers have over these details. It is also so you can make your own informed decision about which version you want to use in your writing. It’s all good and well a writer telling you ‘this is how I do it’, it is problematic and unfair if they say ‘and this is how you have to do it too’. Therefore I consider it important to present you with both sides not simply my own.

This applies to everything I present to you in all my articles, you are free to disagree with me.


Article Archive 1

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. This is the last part.

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Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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