Prepositions of Movement or Direction:


Use of "to"

Use of "into"

Use of "onto"

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Prepositions that express movement toward something are to, onto, and into. To, onto, and into can be defined in the same way as at, in, and on (which explain the relationships of point, surface,  area and volume. See Prepositions of Place or Location.)


The most common preposition of movement or direction is to. To indicates orientation toward a goalIf the goal is a physical one (the store, a party, the kitchen, etc.), to shows movement toward that point. “Bailey ran to the corner.” (He is running in the direction of the corner.) If the goal is not an actual place, but is an action or a thought, to is used with another verb in the infinitive form and expresses purpose (in order to). “We cleaned the house to prepare for the reception” (We cleaned in order to prepare for the reception.) Both meanings of the word to can be used in the same sentence: “Paul went to Lucy’s house to deliver the gift.” (Lucy’s house is the physical destination, and Paul's purpose is in order to deliver the gift'.)


Uses of "to":

a ) The preposition to is used as an ordinary preposition with verbs of communication such as listen, speak, relate (as in telling someone something), appeal (meaning 'pleading', not as in 'be attractive to')

b) The preposition to is used as an ordinary preposition with verbs of movement such as move, go, transfer, walk, run, swim, ride, drive,  fly, travel.

  Note: All these verbs (except transfer) can be used with toward, as well as with to. Be aware that to suggests movement toward a specific point, and toward suggests movement in a general direction without actually arriving at a specific goal or destination.


c) The preposition to can be added to a verb in order to create an infinitive. (to walk, to think, to eat, etc.) This use of to shows: willingness, purpose, obligation, desire, or intent.

The other two prepositions of direction are compounds formed by adding to: on + to = onto: signifies movement toward the top of a surface; in + to = into: signifies movement toward the interior of something. With some action verbs, on and in have a directional meaning and may also be used, but not in every instance.  

  The difference between the compound prepositions into and onto and the simple prepositions in and on is that the compound prepositions indicate the completion of an action, and the simple prepositions show the position of the subject as a result of that action. 


Uses of into:

Remember that into shows completion of an action, in shows the position of the object as a result of an action.

   a) With verbs expressing motion, into and in are may be used interchangeably except:

Note: Into may be used as the last word (with the exception of the adverbial) in a question that asks who, when, what about the subject.

    b) Using in or into with the verb move:

  move in followed by a clause showing reason or purpose that indicates approaching. Move in is a phrasal verb and is sometimes an idiom.

When into is used with move, it's used as an ordinary preposition and means moving something from one place to another:  

Uses of onto:

  a) With verbs of motion, onto and on are usually interchangeable. 

Note: Some motion verbs indicate that the subject causes itself or some other object to be located in a specific place.  Some of these verbs can only be used with on. Others can be used with both on and onto. There are also times when the word "add" is used alone, or used with the word to.

Important note:  Simple prepositions can combine with verbs, but compound prepositions cannot!


b) With verbs showing a stationary position, on or in are used as the ordinary meanings of those prepositions.

c)   There are other verb/preposition combinations which mean "continuing or resuming an action" when they are used in an imperative sentence. These combinations are used only with on, except for hang, which takes both on and onto. Some of these combinations are idiomatic. In this exercise, only the regular meanings are being used: hang on (or onto = continue to grasp tightly), carry on = continue/resume doing what you were doingdream oncontinue dreaming, lead on = continue/resume leading us.