“On”, “Onto” or “On to” – How to use them correctly?

Prepositions are an integral part of the English language. They show the relationship between other words in a sentence. Though most prepositions express very specific ideas, many of them are close in their meaning and spelling. These overlaps often confuse writers, leading to incorrect word choices.

On, onto and on to are three such confusing prepositions that are used interchangeably by many, but they do not exactly mean the same!

So what is the difference between these three words? How do they change the meaning of the sentence? And most importantly, which preposition should be used where? We will answer all these questions today and help you get them right in your writing.

On

On is used to indicate location or position on a surface.

I have left the file on your desk.

Apollo 11 was the first spaceflight to land humans on the Moon.

Onto

Onto indicates the movement of something from a particular position or location to another. The object was not present at the location initially but has now moved there.

They climbed onto the roof to gaze at the starry sky.

Why don’t we step onto the dance floor?

On to

On to, as two words, are used when on is a part of a phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs, are a group of two or three words that form a semantic unit which functions as a verb. When used as a part of a phrasal verb, on does not indicate a location.

Please log on to your computers.

You must hold on to your dream, no matter how challenging it gets.

On, onto and on to – What is the difference?

As discussed above, on tells you that an object is present at a particular location, while onto describes the movement of the object towards a particular location. To understand the difference better, let us use both these prepositions in the same sentence and see how they change its meaning.

Susan strolled on the bridge with her dog.

Here we understand that Susan is already present on the bridge and is just enjoying a leisurely walking her pet. Now let us replace on with onto.

Susan strolled onto the bridge with her dog.

This sentence shows that Susan was not present on the bridge initially. She was at some other position and moved towards the bridge. So the movement from one location to another is specified by the preposition onto.

On the other hand, on to must be used when on constitutes a phrasal verb and to is following it as a preposition for connecting the sentencing with the object.

Here’s a hack

  1. When you want to tell the location or position of an object, use on.
  2. The ‘to’ present in onto can be remembered as ‘towards’. So, when you are talking about the movement of an object to/towards a particular location, use onto.
  3. If on is a part of a phrasal verb, use on to.

Now that you know how to use these prepositions correctly, why don’t you further your understanding of other confusing English words? Check out our blog on ­­­_______________ and learn quick and simple tips for error-free writing!

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