Using “into” and “in to” interchangeably is a very common grammar faux pas—heck, my sister commits this grandiose error in e-mails at least twice a day and, despite my attempts to sic the grammar police on her, she continues to write recklessly. But if you understand their individual definitions, it’s easy to pick the right word to convey your true meaning and avoid the grammar police altogether.
The word “into” is a preposition that expresses movement of something toward or into something else. I made it into work a few minutes early today. The tooth fairy tucked the tooth into her pocket before placing a $1 bill under my daughter’s pillow.
“In to,” on the other hand, is the adverb “in” followed by the preposition “to.” They aren’t really related and only happen to fall next to each other based on sentence construction. My boss sat in to audit the meeting. The tooth fairy came in to collect my daughter’s tooth.
One trick to help you decipher which word (or word pairing) is correct is to think of it this way: “Into” usually answers the question “where?” while “in to” is generally short for “in order to.” So look at your sentence and replace “into” or “in to” with “where?” If the second half of your sentence answers it, use “into.” If it doesn’t, replace “where” with “in order to.” If that works, use “in to.” Here is this method put into practice:
The tooth fairy put my daughter’s tooth where? Ah—into her pocket.
The tooth fairy came in where? To collect my daughter’s tooth? Hmm … that doesn’t work. The tooth fairy came in order to collect my daughter’s tooth.
Grammar police, rest easy—we’ve got this one under control.
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