Guest Editor Robin Cruise: “onto” versus “on to”

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar by

Dear Editor…

Which is right?

1) Jane stepped onto the patio.
2) Jane stepped on to the patio.

My net surfing tells me #1 is right, that if a person or thing is “upon” a concrete object, you can use “onto” and reserve “on to” for things non-concrete or metaphorical, like “Please move on to the next topic.” Is there a net site I could use as a reference?

Thanks so much,
All Mixed Up

Robin CruiseRobin Cruise has worked in various capacities in trade publishing for more than twenty years. Since launching Red Pencil Consulting in November 2011, she has collaborated directly with authors, illustrators, agents, editors, content developers, publishers, and other individuals/entrepreneurs/businesses. She is a skilled researcher, writer, editor, and project manager who helps create, shape, and deliver high-quality content for readers of all ages, both fiction and nonfiction for adults as well as children. Robin may be contacted directly at rcruise1@gmail.com.

Dear All Mixed Up…

I know and feel your pain! On, onto—such eensie words and yet sometimes such GINORMOUS pains in the heinie, right? Well, let’s just keep the way to go simple: With no hesitation whatsoever, I would advise Jane to step boldly onto the patio—and to hang on to her bonnet when she does so! In a nutshell, onto signals movement—and even though it’s a preposition, onto sort of feels/functions like an adverb. Meanwhile, on doesn’t signal motion but is often an adverb that’s part of the verbal phrase, as with hold on to or hang on to. And that’s precisely why Jane should hang on to her bonnet! And while I’m at it, I’d also advise Jane to avoid stepping in the muck—and to forget what’s-his-name if she’s just not that into him! ;>0

Because we’re in the Land of On . . . Keep in mind that it generally makes sense to use on rather than the stuffier upon unless there’s some condition afoot that warrants the latter, for example: The brilliant writer will be paid handsomely upon delivery of the final revised manuscript.

Robin Cruise
Red Pencil Consulting

3 Comments

  1. That was one of the funniest grammar explanation yet! I recently had a critiquer change my line “…flops over on his back…” to “…flops onto his back…,” neither of which sounds quite right to me, but I guess “onto” is the right way after all. :} Thanks, Robin!

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