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May 23 2013   8:30PM GMT

The difference between “onto” and “on to”



Posted by: Ivy Wigmore
Tags:
one word or two
onto vs. on to


interrobang Which is correct?At the end-of-quarter gathering, the CEO climbed ___ her desk and yelled triumphantly: “We survived! Now let’s move ___ the celebration.”
a. onto / onto
b. on to / on to
c. onto / on to
d. on to / onto

Answer: c

Explanation
Onto is always the correct choice when something is physically placed on top of something else — in  this case the CEO places herself on top of her desk. You want on to when you’re indicating a movement toward something from something else. In this case, maybe from work toward pizza and beer.

Here’s the Oxford Dictionary’s explanation:

The preposition onto meaning ‘to a position on the surface of’ has been widely written as one word (instead of on to) since the early 18th century, as in the following sentences:

He threw his plate onto the floor.
The band climbed onto the stage.
Nevertheless, some people still don’t accept it as part of standard British English (unlike into) and it’s best to use the two-word form in formal writing.
In US English, onto is more or less the standard form: it seems likely that this will eventually become the case in British English too. Remember, though, that you should never write on to as one word when it means ‘onwards and towards’. For example:
√ Let’s move on to the next point.
X Let’s move onto the next point.
√ Those who qualify can go on to university.
X Those who qualify can go onto university.

For other situations, especially in U.S. English, onto  is often preferred, as in catch onto, latch onto, hold onto and so on.

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3  Comments on this Post

 
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  • TomLiotta
    ...in  this case the CEO places herself on top of her desk..In this case, he really didn't, did he?  :-).More seriously, this usage case, 'onto' or 'on to', is one I've wondered about while writing. Thanks for digging into these for us. It's not easy for casual writers to know how to track these down..Tom
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  • TomLiotta
    Sheesh... this editor can be a pain. -- Tom
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  • Ivy Wigmore
    Thanks, Tom. I decided to give the CEO a sex change when I was writing the explanation but forgot to go back to the question. :)
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