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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Onto' vs. 'On To'

‘Onto’ is a preposition that shows a movement toward another surface:

(1) The doors opened [onto a large veranda].
(2) We stepped [onto a crowded platform].
(3) He slid the pizza [onto the hot stone].

The words in the square brackets are prepositional phrases related to the preposition onto. The bracketed phrases specify a location towards which the movement is directed.

Note: (1)-(3) aren’t clear cut cases, and some speakers may use ‘on to’ (written separately) instead of ‘onto’.  There is no universally accepted explanation and sometimes these two can be interchangeable.

Yet, with verbs meaning ‘lift’ or ‘climb’, onto is preferable:

(4) The victim was lifted onto the stretcher.
(5) A family of racoons climbed onto the picnic table.
(6) The fishermen hauled the netting onto the boat.
(7) The horses were hoisted onto the truck.

A general rule of thumb to decide if ‘onto’ is appropriate is relplace it with ‘on’. The meaning should not be affected:

(8) Save it onto/on the desktop.
(9) Never put a stroller onto/on the escalator.
(10) They hopped onto/on the streetcar.

Note: Never replace ‘on’ with ‘onto’. It doesn’t work the other way around.

‘On to’ is written separately when ‘on’ is a part of a phrasal verb:

(11) [Could you please pass it on] [to everyone in the room]?
(12) [The presenter moved on] [to the next topic].
(13) [I can’t log on] [to my account].

Additional common phrasal verbs may include: hold on (to the rail), catch on (to the joke), turn on (to the next topic), hang on (to the hope), go on (to pursue an academic degree).
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 5:11 PM
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 AT 2:00 PM
Maria G. said:
This is wonderful information. I was having trouble with: that would have been hard to hold on to / or onto. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 AT 2:40 PM
Davie said:
Thank you very much for sharing these important grammar tips! I truly appreciate them. :-)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 AT 6:53 PM
Lucy said:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 AT 11:43 PM
Brad said:
I came onto this site hoping to hold on to some great grammar concepts and indeed I did.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 AT 8:30 PM
kyle said:
I am a native english speaker and i still don't understand any of this. I have never heard of a phrasal verb and i have been through college english classes, makes me wonder if they just assume we know these things at each level and we never are taught correctly. Thanks for the info, still a bit confused though.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 AT 8:36 PM
kyle said:
Oh by verbal phrase do you mean prepositional phrase? is that the same thing? I am thinking this might just be a terminology issue :D

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