Time for a quick review of the English prepositions (2)

Jose A. Carillo

Jose A. Carillo

Last week, as suggested by English grammar enthusiast Edward G. Lim on my Facebook page, I started a review of the prepositions. I began with the prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating place and location in space, then proceeded to the prepositions “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into” for establishing motion and direction. I explained that these four prepositions link the verbs of movement—“move,” “go,” “transfer,” “walk,” “run,” “swim,” “ride,” “drive,” “fly,” “travel,” and many more—to their object destination.


I’ll now resume by pointing out that when used with verbs of motion, “in” and “into” can be used interchangeably more or less freely, as in “The swimmer dived in the pool” and “The swimmer dived into the pool.” There are notable exceptions, though. “In” can only be used when it occurs right before an adverbial of time (“yesterday,” “last night”), as in “The woman came in yesterday”; when it occurs right before an adverbial of manner (“quickly,” “hurriedly”), as in, “The new tenants moved in hurriedly”; when it occurs right before an adverbial of frequency, as in, “The woman went in twice”; and when it’s the last word in the sentence, as in, “The new tenants moved in.”

In a question, on the other hand, the preposition “into” can be the last word as well, as in “What sort of rigmarole has that senator gotten herself into?” However, “in” should be used instead if that question is asked in this form: “What sort of rigmarole is she in?”

It’s also worth noting that “in” and “into” have two unique uses with the verb “move.” The first is when “move in” is followed by a clause indicating purpose or motive, as in “The hunters moved in for the kill”; “in” is integral to the verb phrase “moved in,” so “into” can’t be used. The second is when “into” is used with “move” to convey the idea of simple movement, as in “The firemen moved into the burning building.”

“To” and “toward,” “onto,” and “into” as prepositions of direction. These prepositions correspond to the common prepositions of location: (a) “to” and “toward” for “at,” (b) “onto” for “on,” and (c) “into” for “in.” As in prepositions of location, each of them is defined by the same space relations of point, line, surface, or area.
“To,” the basic directional preposition, signifies orientation toward a goal. If that goal is physical, like a specific destination, “to” conveys the idea of movement in the direction of that goal, as in “The troops returned to their base.”

“Toward” also works as a directional preposition, and means the same thing as the directional preposition “to.” If the goal isn’t a physical place, as in an action, “to” simply puts the verb in the infinitive form to express a particular purpose, as in “She sings to earn extra money,” and “She cut her hair to show displeasure.”

In the case of the directional prepositions “onto” and “into,” they are compounds formed by “to” with a preposition of location: (a) on + to = onto, to signify movement toward a surface, and (b) in + to = into, to signify movement inside a finite three-dimensional space or volume.

When used with many verbs of motion, however, “on” and “in” already have a directional meaning. They can, therefore, be freely used instead of “onto” and “into.” Indeed, “on” and “onto” work equally well: “The cats fell on [onto]the floor.” “The whales washed up onto [on]the beach.” “The girl jumped into [in]the river.”

Notice that the compound locational prepositions “onto” and “into” always convey the consummation of an action, while the simple locational prepositions “on” and “in” indicate the subject’s end-position as a result of the action.

We’ll examine these aspects of “on,” “in,” and “into” more closely next week.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

Comments are closed.