Onto vs. On to

In this lesson, we're gonna delve into the more grammatically confusing words. Are you ready? Do you still wanna learn? Let's go.

"Onto" vs. "On to" in the English Grammar

What Is Their Difference?

'Onto' is a preposition and 'on to' is just a combination of the particle 'on' in a phrasal verb plus the preposition 'to'. However, 'onto' refers to something moving from one place to the surface of another, whereas, 'on to' is used when 'on' is the particle of a phrasal verb.


As mentioned above, 'onto' is a preposition of movement indicating something going to the surface of another. Look at the examples below:

The snake crawled onto the table and hissed.

The girl nervously stepped onto the platform and started speaking.

'On to', on the other hand, is when we have a phrasal verb, and 'on' is the particle of the phrasal verb. Look at the examples below:

While I keep talking to him, hold on to the gate.

You guys looked on to the other side of the Michigan Lake and remained silent.


In fact, they share no similarities. Look:

Jimmy climbed onto bed and hugged me.

Did you log on to the system when you arrived?

Are They Interchangeable?

Although they look somehow similar, they cannot be used interchangeably, because 'on' in 'on to' is part of a phrasal verb, whereas 'onto' is a preposition all by itself. When 'onto' is used it refers to something coming on the surface of another thing, whereas, 'come on to' refers to being sexually interested in someone. Compare:

✓ The body came onto the surface of the water and floated.

X The body came on to the surface of the water and floated.

As you can see here, 'on' is a particle of the phrasal verb.


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