In vs. Into: How to Choose the Right Word

English learners and native speakers often confuse these prepositions

Man diving into a pool

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The words "in" and "into" are both prepositions, and these terms can be confusing to use for English-language learners and native speakers alike. But they have slightly different meanings as well as different uses. "In" generally refers to being inside something, as in:

  • Adam stood alone "in" the elevator.

The word "into" generally means movement toward the inside of something, such as:

  • Adam walked "into" the elevator.

Examples, usage notes, and tips on how to distinguish the terms can show how to use them correctly.

How to Use In

Use "in" when you mean that a person, place, thing, or animal is located inside a location, as in:

  • They were already "in" (inside) the stadium
  • He was "in" (inside) the house when the murder was committed.

You can also use "in" to indicate that something (such as an idea) rests within an object or another idea, such as:

  • The chief value of money lies "in" the fact that one lives "in" a world "in" which it is overestimated.

"In" is used in two different ways here. In the first, the value of money lies "in" the fact: Literally, this means that the value of money (the idea that money has value) rests "within" the fact that a person lives "in" (inside) a world "in" which (referring again to the world) it is overestimated. The notion of living "in" a world is also a little tricky here. A person does not actually live "in" the world ("inside" the Earth's core). Instead, the presumption is that the person is an inhabitant of the world (Earth).

How to Use Into

Use "into" in the sense of coming toward something, as in:

  • In defiance of the Roman Senate, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubican and marched "into" Rome with his army.

In this use, Caesar, with his army, is walking toward and entering Rome, in a menacing way, and, indeed, in a way that changed history. In that sense, this may be one of the most dramatic uses of "into" in Western civilization. Another use of "into" might read:

  • Captain Kirk stepped "into" the transporter, and "in" a moment, he was gone.

The famous fictional character in the "Star Trek" television show and movies stepped "into" the transporter (that is, he moved toward the transporter and entered it). The use of "in" here is slightly different than above. In this case, "in" doesn't mean "inside" a location, but "inside" an instant of time ("in" a moment).

Examples

Using both "in" and "into" in the same sentence best helps to distinguish them. For example:

  • After waiting "in" the hallway for 20 minutes, Joe finally stepped "into" the manager's office.

In this sentence, Joe waited inside the hallway, thus "in" is the correct preposition. However, after waiting inside the hallway for 20 minutes, he stepped "into" the manager's office—that is, he moved toward the inside of the manager's office. The next example reverses the terms:

  • On her way back from Detroit, Lee ran "into" a snowstorm and took a wrong turn "in" Flint.

Here, Lee was moving in the direction of something, in this case, a snowstorm. Hence, the correct use is to say that Lee ran "into" the snowstorm. He then found himself inside of Flint ("in" Flint) and took a wrong turn once he was in (inside) that city. "Into" can also have a slightly different connotation; rather than moving toward a specific location, you could find yourself moving toward a situation, as in this example:

  • The No. 1 way of getting your parents' attention is getting "into" trouble while you are "in" school.

In this case, the unspecified student is moving toward trouble (getting "into" trouble) while she is inside of school ("in" school).

How to Remember the Difference

Using both "in" and "into" in the same sentence can help illustrate the difference between the terms, as in this example:

  • "In" five minutes, you will come to a gate. Walk through the gate "into" the field, then head upstairs and go "into" the press box.

In this case, "in" five minutes means "after a period of five minutes." You can tell that "in" is the correct term if you swap it for "into," as in, "Into" five minutes, you will... Clearly, that phrase does not make sense, so you need the preposition "in" here. You can also swap "in" for "into" to see the difference. So, if you were to say:

  • Walk through the gate and "in" the field, then head upstairs and go "in" the press box.

That distinction is more nuanced but not correct in this example. If you say, "Walk through the gate and in the field," that implies that you are already "inside" the field, rather than simply entering it. The same goes for, "head upstairs and go in the press box." If you read the sentence aloud, you will see that you need to go "into" the press box before you are "in" it. Thus you need the word "into" for these two uses to show that you are moving toward and entering "into" the field and the press box.

Into: Special Cases

"Into" also has other uses in the English language. It can connote a high level of enthusiasm or interest in something, as in:

  • He's really "into" her.
  • She's really "into" her work.
  • But, they're both really "into" reggae.

All three sentences convey that their subjects are really interested or enthusiastic about something: "He's really into her" means that he really likes her; "She's really into her work" implies that she's really dedicated to her work; "But, they're both really into reggae" means that they both really like this Jamaican style of music, implying that they may have something in common.

"Into" can also communicate that something is changed or that someone changes something, as in:

  • The menu was translated "into" five languages.
  • Sam changed "into" a tuxedo for the wedding.
  • They divided the pizza "into" eight equal slices.

In the sentences, the menu—which was presumably printed in just one language initially—was now printed in five more. In the second, Sam did not become a tuxedo, but he changed into a different set of (fancier) clothes than he was wearing before. The pizza, which was initially just one large, round pie, was then divided "into" many slices.

"In" as a Phrasal Construction

A phrasal verb is one that is made up of two or more words, which with regard to this term, means "in" plus another word, as in this often-used example:

  • Sue "called in" sick.

In this use, "called" is paired with "in" to create the phrasal, "called in." It's important to distinguish this from the previously discussed uses for "in." In this sentence, Sue is not "inside" somewhere. Instead, the phrasal causes the word "in" to take on a completely different meaning: that Sue called to let someone, possibly her boss, know that she was sick, and thus would not come "into" work or that she would not be "in" (inside) the workplace that day.

Other examples of "in" used as part of a phrasal construction include, but are not limited to, "blend in" (become inconspicuous), "break in" (illegally enter a residence or business with an intent to steal), "butt in" (insert oneself into a conversation or situation, generally in an unwelcome manner), "fit in" (become part of a group, club, or society), and "come in" (enter a location). In this last use, the phrasal "come in" takes on a meaning closer to "into," as in coming toward, or creating a movement toward, something.

"Into" can, occasionally, also take on a phrasal construction, such as, "enter into an agreement." In this use, a person is quite literally "coming into" an agreement, or in other words, agreeing to become a party to an agreement.

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