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On to vs. Onto

Rule 1: In general, use onto as one word to mean “on top of,” “to a position on,” “upon.”

Examples:
He climbed onto the roof.
Let’s step onto the dance floor.

Rule 2: Use onto when you mean “fully aware of,” “informed about.”

Examples:
I’m onto your scheme.
We canceled Julia’s surprise party when we realized she was onto our plan.

Rule 3: Use on to, two words, when on is part of the verb.

Examples:
We canceled Julia’s surprise party when we realized she caught on to our plan.
(caught on is a verb phrase)
I’m going to log on to the computer. (log on is a verb phrase)

 

Pop Quiz
1. Billy, I’m worried that climbing on to/onto that tree limb is unsafe.
2. My daughter is going on to/onto graduate school.
3. Jose stepped down from the ladder on to/onto the ground.
4. The magician realized one person in the audience was on to/onto his trick.
5. After you drive five miles, turn on to/onto Highway 280 south.
6. The Gateses have moved on to/onto a life of philanthropy.

 

Pop Quiz Answers
1. Billy, I’m worried that climbing onto that tree limb is unsafe.
2. My daughter is going on to graduate school.
3. Jose stepped down from the ladder onto the ground.
4. The magician realized one person in the audience was onto his trick.
5. After you drive five miles, turn onto Highway 280 south.
6. The Gateses have moved on to a life of philanthropy.

Click here to learn hundreds of distinctions between common words.

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2010, at 8:53 am


121 Comments

121 Responses to “On to vs. Onto

  1. Collene Pollutro says:

    Good morning, I need to say many thanks for an great web-site about a topic I have had an curiosity in for some time now. I’ve been exploring in and reading through the comments and only wanted to express my many thanks for giving me some pretty helpful reading material. I anticipate reading more, and taking a more active part in the comments here, while picking up some expertise as well :D

  2. Ron Tillotson says:

    Using ‘up” is such a simple solution. Thank you. Your blog is invaluable, especially when working as a technical writer among software engineers

  3. Lance says:

    Excellent tip! I’ve never heard that before, but it makes it all clear.

  4. Emily Rittel-King says:

    In the sentence “I knew they were onto/on to us,” which is correct?

  5. Andil says:

    Would you say that “open plan living areas spill onto a deck”? or on to? Wasn’t sure about this one!

  6. Jax says:

    What about “you made it on to/onto a list of contenders” ? On to ?

  7. Ann says:

    What about “turn on to South Blvd.” vs. “turn onto South Blvd.”?

  8. megan says:

    Another easy solution is you can usually replace onto with upon. If not, you should probably be saying: on to.

    This website is helpful! Thanks!

  9. Caline says:

    Hi, do we say “pour the water on the flowers” or “pour the water on to the flowers” or “pour the water onto the flowers”?

  10. Rachel says:

    What about “I logged onto/on to Skype” ?

  11. Sheryl says:

    I’m confused by a couple of the examples above by adding up to onto that infers in that sentence that up means up vs. down, or a spill and a pour goes up vs. down due to gravity. If adding up truly means the direction up or even adding up in quantity, it seems nonsensical to add up in these instances: 1) Open plan living areas spill (up) onto a deck. Spills or falls can’t go up. 2) Pour the water onto the flowers. Pouring water (up) is impossible. Help me understand how adding the word up works if the action it creates in the sentence can’t happen. I like the idea of adding up but I can see myself doubting the reasoning and therefore making the wrong on to/onto choice. Thanks for your help!

    • Jane says:

      In the first sentence, “Open plan living areas spill onto a deck,” the word spill does not take on the meaning of a liquid running out. Instead, it means flow (as in flow of space). With this meaning, it makes sense to say that open plan living areas spill upon a deck.

      In the case of the second sentence, “Pour the water onto the flowers,” the technique suggested by “megan” above is more useful. If you think of it as “Pour water upon the flowers,” it makes more sense than “Pour water up onto the flowers.”

  12. Aleda says:

    Which is correct: “…he was able to hold on to his branch” OR “…he was able to hold onto his branch”?
    How about “…just to hang on to the branch…” OR “…just to hang onto the branch…”?
    Using the “upon = onto” rule, the 1st example should be “on to” and the second “onto.” Agree? Or does it matter? I prefer “onto” in both cases.

    • Jane says:

      Since you cannot add up before on in either of your examples, and, considering the definition of onto in The American Heritage Dictionary of “on top of, to a position on, upon,” use on to in both sentences.

      He was able to hold on to his branch.
      Just hang on to the branch.

  13. Janet says:

    This is just one of the many helps I’ve found on your website. I’ve recently become an editor for a new novelist. I’ve used this website to check words and usage I ‘m not certain of. Often I am right. Sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes I am wrong. But this website has been an invaluable resource for me to learn from and be certain that my projects are in great shape when finished.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I am preparing my wedding invitations and I am writing the directions to the church and hotel. I don’t know whether to say “turn right onto Boston Road” or “turn right on to Boston Road.” Thanks for your advice! Elizabeth

  15. Jon says:

    I’m a transcriptionist, and I have run into two separate instances.

    Number 1: “I didn’t know there would be interest added on to the loan.”

    Number 2: “So what initially was $10, onto that was added interest.”

    Any help would be awesome!

  16. Karin says:

    How about the word “Log On” and “Log onto” when telling customers that they can check their account balance when they have log on to their internet banking account?

    It should be “log on to your account” or “log onto your account”? I used the former. Is it correct?

  17. maria says:

    Hi, Jane.

    Would you say “That is something worth holding on to.” OR “That is something worth holding onto.”? My preference would be for “on to”.

    Thank you.

  18. Alyssa says:

    This is somewhat similar to Maria’s inquiry. There’s a lyric in a song that is written on the band’s website as “Hold onto chance” but I think it should be “Hold on to chance”. Which is correct? Thank you.

  19. Irene says:

    Hi,
    Would this be correct?
    Put your hand (up) onto this shoulder.

  20. Patty says:

    Very interesting…i thought onto was my word but now all this makes me think otherwise…as i do not need up.
    Here is my phrase.
    Onto day four.

    I guess it should be On to day four.
    This looks so odd to my eye. What do you think?

  21. christine says:

    Is someone elected onto the board of directors or on to the board of directors? Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      On is an unnecessary preposition in this case. It would be better to write, “She was elected to the board of directors.” Once elected, you might write, “She is on the board of directors.”

  22. Figgy says:

    How about “out”? Does that fit the same rule as “up”?

    For example, would they step “onto” a dance floor?

    • Jane says:

      Considering the definition of onto in The American Heritage Dictionary of “on top of, to a position on, upon,” you would use onto since they are certainly “to a position on” the dance floor.

  23. Jack says:

    Is this book available in hard copy? I would like to have a copy. With a PhD and a PsyD under my belt, that means two dissertations: no one is as picky as a PhD panel! Your insights are concise, easy to understand — excellent.

  24. Klownchez says:

    How about…
    “Almost every King had added on to the castle, and there was no…”

    I’m assuming from your above comment on “log on,” that “added on” falls in that category, but I wanted to make sure

    • Jane says:

      You are correct. “Add on” is a common phrase used when referring to the construction of an addition to a building. Also, since “king” is not part of a proper name but is used generically, do not capitalize.

      Almost every king had added on to the castle.

  25. kelly says:

    What about this instance:

    On to tomorrow.

    • Jane says:

      I assume you would be using the phrase in a sentence such as “Today is finished; on to tomorrow.” In that case, on to would be correct, not onto.

  26. M Angel says:

    Install the part onto the engine?
    or
    Install the part on to the engine?

    Thank you.

    • Jane says:

      Either of the following would be grammatically correct:

      Install the part onto the engine. (to a position on)
      Install the part on the engine.

  27. Tom says:

    The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.

    Is this correct?

    Thanks

  28. Katie says:

    Hello Jane, what about “the article is posted onto the website” or “the article is posted on to the website”? I think “up onto” is fine too but not very sure…

  29. Jax says:

    I think this website is onto something.

  30. Patti says:

    Great tip. Since one would not get up onto a computer, I would assume they would simply get on to a computer? Still struggling with this one a bit. Thanks in advance.

  31. Tabitha says:

    What about I’m moving onto/on to graduate school?

  32. rob says:

    what about this: “she took the hurt and held on to it.”

    is that correct?

  33. Nick says:

    Hi,
    Could you help with the below:
    Book onto/on to a 2012 construction course

  34. bill says:

    on/onto works for the first: “going ___ stage” and “first ___ the plane”?

    • Jane says:

      The word to is unnecessary in your phrases. I recommend going on stage and first on the plane. Saying “first onto the plane” could properly be interpreted as the first person to climb on top of the airplane.

  35. SCarpenter says:

    Is it:
    “I love to turn them on to a great book.” OR
    “I love to turn them onto a great book.”
    Thanks!

  36. tamvander says:

    Is this sentence correct:

    When she grabbed on to the chair, it fell onto her head.

    Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      I see that you are trying to imagine a single sentence that uses both on to and onto. While it’s a little hard to imagine the situation actually occurring, your sentence could be correct. Or, more simply, “When she grabbed on to the chair, it fell on her head.”

  37. JRElliott says:

    The rule is “use ‘onto’ when you could precede it with ‘up’”?

    Do you use ‘on to’ in all other cases?

    What about “I stepped down from the ladder [onto / on to] a skateboard that my son had left on the floor.”?

    Maybe the rule should generalize ‘up’ to ‘up/down/left/right/over/under/etc.’ .

    • Jane says:

      When it comes to English, there always seem to be exceptions to the rules. In general, “Use onto as one word if you can add up before on” is a sound rule and works most of the time. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a stretch. In your example, “I stepped down from the ladder onto a skateboard that my son had left on the floor” is correct since you ended in a position up on a skateboard. Generalizing the rule to include down, left, right, over, and under is not going to work, however.

      • JRElliott says:

        And if you leave out the skateboard altogether, aren’t you still stepping “from the ladder down onto the floor”?

        If I were to adopt the rule “Use ‘onto’ as one word if you can add ‘up’ before ‘on’” should I consider the rule to include an elliptical “and use ‘on to’ in cases where you CAN’T prefix it with ‘up’”?

        • Jane says:

          In addition to the test of using the word up before on, we also need to consider the usage given in The American Heritage Dictionary of “on top of, to a position on, upon,” which may or may not include up before on. Therefore, “stepping from the ladder down onto the floor” is correct. It then follows that using on to in cases where you can’t prefix it with up is going too far. I will expand upon the “On to vs. Onto” blog in a future E-Newsletter.

  38. JRElliott says:

    A similar-looking complication arises with [into / in to]. I don’t think anyone would ever have to think about which to use in a sentence like “I turned them [into / in to] the police.” or “He turned water [into / in to] wine.” But I’m not so sure about “I turned my car [into / in to] the driveway.” I think I would write “into” but it’s surely a different “into” than the police example.

    • Jane says:

      “I turned my car into the driveway” is correct since this is a proper use of the preposition into for indicating movement toward the inside of or in the direction of a place.

  39. Jo Ann Nelson says:

    I too am having a hard time with the use of on vs. onto. I see many sources that also use the analogy of being able to put the word “up” before using “onto.” Do you turn “onto the highway” or “on to the highway”? As you don’t turn “up” on to the highway, I would assume “on to the highway” is correct. The same with “I towed the airplane out of the hangar and on to the ramp.” Another case: “screw a brain pressure monitor on to Sarah’s head.” And other instances, “fallen out of bed and on to the floor” and “a large porch built on to the front of the house.” This issue of on vs. onto is mind-boggling to me at times! I certainly will appreciate any direction from you that will help untangle this wacky word use for me.

    • Jane says:

      I agree this can be mind boggling. There may be some instances where either word may be acceptable. In addition to the test of using the word up before on, we also need to consider the usage given in The American Heritage Dictionary of “on top of, to a position on, upon,” which may or may not include up before on. If you take that definition into consideration, one could argue for the use of onto in all of your examples. I will expand upon the “On to vs. Onto” blog in a future E-Newsletter.

  40. Andrea says:

    How about “passionately helping students navigate their way through college and on to (onto) a successful career”

  41. harris says:

    which one is right?
    ‘All labels from Group 1 are not dragged on to the page’ or ‘All labels from group one are not dragged onto the page’

    • Jane says:

      Considering the definition of onto in The American Heritage Dictionary of “on top of, to a position on, upon,” you would use onto.

      All labels from Group 1 are not dragged onto the page.

  42. Timothy R. says:

    I don’t think your use of the example sentence “I’m going to log on to the computer.” was helpful because “log on” should have been one word. Since this is a grammar forum and not an IT forum, I will spare you the technical distinction between login vs. logon. Logon/login is a noun or adjective and log on/in is an action verb.

  43. Laurie says:

    Is the use of onto and into correct in this sentence…
    As I stepped onto the slide, I was shocked because I could see so far into the distance.

  44. Tina Merrill says:

    Would moving on to another classroom be correct or moving onto another classroom?

  45. Tammy says:

    Jose stepped down from the ladder (up) onto the ground.

    Your “up” before “onto” rule doesn’t make sense to me in this example, but otherwise, a helpful tool. Thank you.

    • Jane says:

      In addition to the test of using the word up before on, we also need to consider the usage of onto given in The American Heritage Dictionary of “on top of, to a position on, upon,” which may or may not include up before on. Therefore, “stepped down from the ladder (down) onto the ground” is correct.

  46. Chris says:

    I appreciate the information, but, am I missing or was “on to” not defined, only “onto”..?

    When do you use “on to”?

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      “On to” is a common two-word phrase: on followed by the preposition to. The on is often part of the verb in the sentence (hold on in the first example below), or sometimes it is an adverb (as in go on). To indicates movement, direction, nearness, or contact. Examples:

      Hold on to your passport.
      Go on to the next question.

  47. cath says:

    Pass this onto a friend or pass this on to a friend?

  48. Billy Jay says:

    I would think that for a novelist like myself, this rule about “onto” and “on to” would only apply when writing out the dialogue of characters in a book but not when describing the story plot inasmuch as “onto” appears to be purely a part of the American dialect. I feel patriotic that the British lost the war against us Americans in 1776, and I’m glad you published this article online. However, if one wishes to market their novel internationally, then I guess one has to show a certain degree of consideration to the rules set forth by Oxford University. It’s just like we Americans get to end our sentences in prepositions and British people don’t.

    • Jane says:

      That is a dilemma for published writers. If one abides by the British rules, American grammarians may be critical, and vice versa, although allowance should be given for an author’s country of origin.

  49. Melissa says:

    Quick question: Is it “His eyes locked on to Peter” or “His eyes locked onto Peter”?

    • Jane says:

      This is one of those situations that could go either way, depending on whether you consider the verb to be locked, taking the preposition onto; or locked on, taking the preposition to. It makes no difference really.

  50. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for your time in creating this website.

  51. Nora says:

    In the example “hold on to your hat,” can hold onto be the full phrasal verb because you can replace it with one word? Grab your hat (grab what?). Is this a subject-verb-object sentence rather than a subject-verb-adverbial preposition sentence? It seems hold onto is more like “to position on” that you note. Please clarify. Thanks!

  52. Crystal says:

    As soon as we learn something, they are on to something different?

    Speaking of kids with technology.

    Transcribing audio.

  53. Crystal says:

    “Parents have asked if they can get on to our website.”

    Would this be correct? It is a quote, so I cannot change the structure of the sentence.

    Thanks in advance.

  54. Joe says:

    Isn’t the answer to number 5 on to instead of onto? Isn’t “turn on” one of theose verb phrases and “to” concents the verb phrase to the thing that is getting the action. According to this lesson if we were to use the word “onto” it would be like say we are turing on top of that road. Wouldn’t it be better to use “on to” instead? This way it would be like saying move in to that highway. I figure while we are driving we are on top of the street yes but when we make a trun a the light we are not moving on to the street becausewe are already on it. We are simply moving in a different direction. I guess if we weren’t on the street and moving onto the street then it would be better to use “onto” instead of “on to”. Sorry for the lack of commas. I am still mastering grammerl. I’m trying to become a master a grammer so my writing looks more professional. I would be very greatful if you could clear this up for me. Thank you for your time.

  55. Bench says:

    “…enhance the group that someday we can pass on to / onto the next generation.”

    I used onto. Is that correct?

    Thanks!

  56. Joao nascimento says:

    I’m a Brazilian English teacher for years, and really never understood this on to/onto thingy. I live in Guyana, where English is spoken and my children go to school and I could not help them with this, but thanks to your very clear explanation now I do! João
    Guyana, South America

  57. Billy Jay says:

    I took your advice from last January about keeping my grammar American as opposed to British, because I am American. Therefore, I did wish to ask you something.
    Would I write>>>>>[After the fan gawked at the rock star, she came onto him.]? -OR- would I write>>>[After the fan gawked at the rock star, she came on to him.]?
    I’m thinking that “come on” is like a two-word verb in which one word cannot survive without the other. Therefore, I would think that it would be more correct for me to write>>[After the fan gawked at the rock star, she came on to him.]
    That is, I would use “on to” instead of “onto” in this event.

  58. Keith says:

    What about the sentence, “drain leaks onto the floor.” Is that ok? Because you could also say drain leaks upon the floor?

    • A proper sentence would be “The drain is leaking onto the floor” or “The drain leaks onto the floor.” “The drain leaks upon the floor” while grammatically correct, sounds awkward.

  59. Joe says:

    I must admit that I am still a bit confused after taking the pop quiz. In these examples would I be correct?

    ” I have sent a copy of your email on to Joe”
    ” I will forward your email on to Joe”
    ” Joe is onto your email”
    ” Joe has read your email and has gone on to other business”

    • All of the sentences are grammatically correct with added periods except possibly the third sentence. If the meaning is “Joe has moved on to reading your email,” write on to. If you mean that Joe is fully aware of or informed about the email, such as “Joe is onto your scheme,” then onto is correct.

  60. Billy Jay says:

    If I were writing a play or a movie script in American English, which would be correct for me to write in a dialogue?
    [The tabloid commentator said, "The Vietnam War era draft resister has been invited onto 'The Steve Wilkos Show' to give his side of the story."]
    –OR–
    [The tabloid commentator said, "The Vietnam War era draft resister has been invited on to 'The Steve Wilkos Show' to give his side of the story.]

    • The Chicago Manual of Style’s Rule 8.185 says, “Titles of movies and of television and radio programs and series are italicized.” Therefore, we recommend the following:
      The tabloid commentator said, “The Vietnam War-era draft resister has been invited on to The Steve Wilkos Show to give his side of the story.” OR
      The tabloid commentator said, “The Vietnam War-era draft resister has been invited to appear on The Steve Wilkos Show to give his side of the story.”

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