Though I’ve been editing for more than 30 years, and reading for even longer, certain word usages still make me stop and wonder what’s right. One such enigma is the different uses for into versus in to, which a reader asked me to explain.
One night this week as I dozed off, the explanation was so clear in my head. Let’s see how it translates to paper.
In is a preposition, meaning it combines with noun phrases. Other prepositions are on, of, by, at.
Smoke gets in my eye.
My favorite show is on TV now.
I’d like a bar of milk chocolate with hazelnuts.
I’m waking up at 8 a.m. on Monday.
In also sometimes pairs up with verbs, making a verbal phrase.
He inched in to the room so we wouldn’t make noise.
She dropped in to the convenience store for coffee.
The test bubbles are filled in to indicate the right answers to the multiple-choice questions.
To is also a preposition.
This hat is perfect to wear to the wedding.
Stand to the right, please.
Hand that remote to me, please.
Quite often, in and to land next to each other in a sentence. That doesn’t mean they should form one word. We don’t take the infinitive forms of verbs — to eat, to ski, to run — and turn them into single words — toeat, toski, torun — just because they’re often next to each other, do we?
Into indicates the movement of something to a new location.
I found $10 on the street and quickly put it into my pocket.
The hallway was dark, and I banged into the bathroom door.
The magician turned my left shoe into a rabbit, leaving me with only one wearable shoe.
Into as one word also means you’re interested in something or devoted to it.
As a teen, I was into cursing, but then I swore off it.
I had been into vexillology, but my interest flagged.
I was into adhesives until things got sticky.
I was enthusiastically into moon-watching, but my excitement waned.
HINDSIGHT IN 2020
The Collins English Dictionary recently released its 2020 Word of the Year. We all suspected it would be something related to the coronavirus, and so it was.
The word is lockdown. Collins’ definition is “the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces.”
At first, I thought it should be coronavirus or pandemic. But lockdown makes sense. The number of millions of people who had to stay inside in a lockdown was far greater, thankfully, than the number of people infected with the coronavirus.
Collins said lockdown showed up in more than 250,000 dictionary searches so far in 2020. In 2019, the word was searched only 4,000 times. Let’s hope dictionary searches for lockdown plunge to 20 or so in 2021.
GHEE OR WHAT?
I knew how to spell ghee, which is the clarified butter that’s often used in Indian cooking. Clarified butter has had the milk solids and other impurities filtered out.
I saw a cartoon just this week about ghee. I’ll just give the dialogue:
Woman A: This butter is so good.
Woman B: Actually, it’s ghee.
Woman A: Ah, thanks for clarifying.
But I digress. I thought of ghee because I realized I didn’t know how to spell its homophone. I was looking for the spelling of the outfit that karate people wear. As is usually the case, I heard the word on a commercial. But I didn’t know how to spell it. This was a rare case in which searching Google beat out searching the dictionary. I searched for “karate outfit” on Google and found gi. That’s gi with a hard g, as in gut. It’s short for karategi.
My two main dictionaries, Merriam-Webster and American Heritage Dictionary, had no entries for gi. Neither did the AP Stylebook. I had to return to Google, where I found the definition on Lexico: “a lightweight two-piece white garment worn in judo and other martial arts. A gi typically consists of loose-fitting pants and a jacket that is closed with a cloth belt.”
I couldn’t stop myself from seeking more information. On the Peace Warrior martial arts site, I learned the purpose of a gi:
The gi itself symbolizes your spirit and readiness to train. Most traditional Karate and Jujitsu school will use white when practicing empty-handed to represent a pure heart and good intentions.
Knowing a definition already but not being able to spell a word was strange. But I sure learned a lot of things along the way.
A reader asked me to remind people that the past tense of lead is led.
I can understand that led might seem like too casual of a spelling. But it truly is the past tense of lead.
I hope to lead the league in home runs, but first I have to learn to play baseball.
Thinking no one had seen him, the burglar led the police straight to his hiding place.
Sources include Quick and Dirty Tips, Your Dictionary, Lexico, Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts & Healing Center, Forbes. Reach Bernadette at