Pedantique-Ryter rant: INTO and IN TO?

Did you know that INTO and IN TO are not interchangeable?

Recently, I read the paragraph below in Jonathan Bouquet’s weekly column in the Observer. Jonathan Bouquet (a subeditor on the paper) is almost always on the side of the language angels, but this time…?

goblinOxford University Press has announced its shortlist for word of the year. Its choices are #IStandWith, Metaverse and goblin mode. The first two I am familiar with, but the last… completely stumped. I’ve never seen it or heard it. Apparently, it is “a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives into and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations”. I think it used to be known as slobbishness. (Observer, 27 Nov 2022)

The source of the definition is not specified in the column. It appears to be but the Observer (or Jonathan Bouquet himself?) has misquoted it. See my added red emphasis.
The definition is actually:

Goblin mode is a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives in to and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations. ( entry dated 7 Jun 2022)

Subeditors hanging head in shame?
Oh dear.

One would have thought that such an august organ—the Observer was first published in 1791—would know better by now. But in the same edition, I read the following in an opinion piece by no less a person than Isobel Hardman, the Assistant Editor of the Spectator:

…more planning reforms are on the brink of failing, with ministers and whips alike expecting Gove to cave into rebels led by Theresa Villiers who want to make top-down housing targets merely advisory.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

What’s the difference between INTO and IN TO?

dictionary open at the word "dictionary"

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

English has loads of phrasal verbs, defined by the Oxford Dictionary of English as:

an idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element, typically either an adverb, as in break down, or a preposition, for example see to, or a combination of both, such as look down on.

In a great many cases, the extra element is IN.
You probably use them regularly.

Phrasal verbs such as:exclamation mark in fire

            • hand in
            • settle in
            • bring in
            • fall in
            • drop in
            • look in
            • take in

I’m sure you can think of many more. The problem comes especially with the ones which you can also use followed by INTO, such as take into account.

reading in hammock

Reading ≠ goblin mode!

It’s easiest to explain the difference by quoting examples.
To start with the goblin mode definition:

  • give in to is a phrasal verb meaning to admit defeat
  • give into (or give on to) means to overlook or lead to:
    the door gave into a hidden cellar,
    the door gave on to the flat roof

I’m sure you can see the difference.
And hear it, too.

Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Continuing to the issue of planning reforms:

  • cave in to is a phrasal verb meaning to submit to pressure
  • cave into (if it means anything) is either the action of exploring caves in a particular place, or causing something to collapse into some other form:
    following the crash, the building caved into a heap of rubble

Does it matter? Yes, I believe it does. And I have authority on my side for ranting about the difference between INTO and IN TO.

Fowler on INTO and IN TO

Fowler's Modern English Usage cover

Fowler is clear that INTO and IN TO are different:

The two words should be written separately when the sense is separate, most commonly when in is a full adverb and to is an infinitive marker and means “in order to”.

He gives examples for IN TO, including:
People dropped in to see him
and says it would be wrong to write:
People dropped into see him

That is correct and it’s fairly obvious to native English speakers.  Fowler also gives quite a difficult example of in to usage followed by a noun:
He accompanied her in to dinner
That is an example where into is often wrongly used.
If we change the verb slightly, the correct usage becomes slightly clearer:
He took her in to dinner
In this case, the words “to dinner” can be dropped and the sentence still makes sense. A sentence “He took her into.” would not make sense.

How to tell the difference between INTO and IN TO

apple half green half redTo be honest, it is not always easy to decide whether the written version should be INTO or IN TO. In speech, obviously, there’s little or no difference.
So here are my tips for deciding which to use. Sadly, they are not foolproof. Sometimes, they won’t help. But I hope you will find them useful, nonetheless.

INTO and IN TO Tip #1

If you can replace TO with IN ORDER TO, then the correct usage is IN TO. That’s shown well in Fowler’s example, People dropped in to see him.

INTO and IN TO Tip #2

If the part of the sentence beginning with TO can be omitted without turning what’s left into nonsense, then the correct usage is IN TO. 

riding cropThe Isobel Hardman quote above could have said, simply, …ministers and whips alike expecting Gove to cave in. Therefore, when the rest of the quote is added, it is correct to use IN TO. Similarly, it makes sense to say he took her in or he escorted her in without mentioning where they were going. So if you choose to add the destination, IN TO is correct.

INTO and IN TO Tip #3

diverging paths, which to choose?

Image by PixxlTeufel from Pixabay

Fowler states that INTO is used especially to express motion or direction. This gets difficult, doesn’t it? Isn’t there motion or direction in the sentence he took her in to dinner…? Yes, there is. All I can say here is that  tip #2 overrides tip #3.
I did warn you my tips weren’t foolproof, didn’t I?

Fowler’s example is I was reduced to staring into the water. He says it would be wrong to write I was reduced to staring in to the water. I agree, though I think that’s too simple an example. If he really wanted to tax our grey cells, he could have used he took her in to dinner. But we know that tip #2 governs that one, don’t we?

Christmas Wishes

I apologise for leaving you without definitive answers to all aspects of the question I set at the start of this blog. Don’t let it spoil your Christmas, whatever you do.

Dedicating Thank YouWith all good wishes for the festive season and for a happy and healthy 2023,

I. Pedantique-Ryter

8 thoughts on “Pedantique-Ryter rant: INTO and IN TO?

  1. Sophie

    I sympathise with the Observer’s sub editor. I often have trouble with this. I always go back to the verb and try it out in different formulations. That’s the only way to see whether “to” is part of the verb or redundant without what follows. But even then it can sometimes feel a bit foggy.

    1. Dame Isadora Post author

      I do agree, dear gel. It is difficult, as I said, and my tips go only part way towards knowing which is right. Going back to the verb is very sensible. As I know you always are, Sophie.

  2. Liz Fielding

    I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with this one. What gets me thoroughly riled is the fact that no one – including BBC journalists who should know better – seems to understand the difference between disinterested and uninterested. It almost feels like a lost cause.

    1. Dame Isadora Post author

      If you have never struggled with this, Liz m’dear, you are definitely a language angel. You are also right about disinterested and uninterested which may indeed be a lost cause.

  3. Susan Allan

    Yes, I knew, and it always annoys me – especially when it appears in a publication which ought to know better!

    1. Dame Isadora Post author

      Good for you, Susan. I did give said publication a right of reply but, so far, no one has responded. Can’t imagine why, can you?

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