‘On To' or 'Onto': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on December 23, 2022

Have you ever wondered whether you should use ‘on to’ or ‘onto’? Perhaps you’re asking yourself that exact question right now. Should it be one word or two words? Let’s find out.

‘Onto’ is a preposition, so you should use it when discussing location. ‘On to’ can be used when the ‘on’ is part of a phrasal verb. Read on to learn more.

‘On to’ or ‘Onto’ - ​​What is the Difference?

The words ‘on to’ and ‘onto’ are quite different. They don’t have the same meaning at all and apply in entirely different contexts.

One is a phrase, and the other is a preposition. One indicates location, and the other does not.

And yet, they are spelled almost exactly the same - save for a tiny space - and when pronounced, they sound the same.

So when should you use ‘on to’ and when should you use ‘onto’? Let’s find out.

When to Use ‘On to’

You can use ‘on to’ in cases where the word ‘on’ is part of a phrasal verb, and ‘to’ connects it with the rest of the sentence.

What is a phrasal verb, you ask? It’s a verb that consists of more than one word. Here’s a list of some phrasal verbs:

Phrasal verbs can be followed by prepositions that connect them to the rest of the sentence. If you take a phrasal verb that ends in ‘on’ ‘you can connect it with the rest of the sentence using the preposition ‘to.’ For example:

I’m confident she’ll go on to do amazing things.

Put the belongings you want to hold on to in the box labeled "to keep".

You guys broke up ages ago; it’s time to move on to brighter pastures.

When to Use ‘Onto’

‘Onto,’ on the other hand, is a preposition in and of its own right. You can use it in different contexts.

To Indicate Movement

The first way you can use ‘onto’ is to indicate movement toward a location. Here are some more examples:

Sally walked onto the bridge with caution.

In the sentence above, the assumption is that Sally was not initially on the bridge. Had we said, “Sally walked on the bridge with caution,” this would indicate that she was already on the bridge from the beginning of the sentence, and she carried on walking on it with caution. Using the word ‘onto’ demonstrates a change of location from off the bridge to on the bridge.

Here are some more examples:

He pulled out onto the main road.

Pop your bag onto the chair, and I’ll grab us a glass of wine.

The snow fell onto the ground in large flakes.

To Indicate Knowledge

‘Onto’ also has an idiomatic meaning. When you say that you’re onto something or someone, you have knowledge or awareness about it. For example:

David put me onto this idea.

The above sentence means that you have an idea, and David was the one who told you about it.

Here are some more examples:

You need to be modeling the best behavior right now; the boss is onto you.

I think the police are onto him.

Researchers believe they’re finally onto a cure.

To Make Contact

You can also ‘get onto someone,’ which means make contact with them.

I really must get onto the vet about my dog’s constant sneezing.

Can you get onto the courier tomorrow about our parcel? It’s three weeks late.

Let's get onto the Mike to get some more of those amazing tomatoes for our dinner tomorrow.

Can You Use Both 'Onto' or 'On To' in the Same Sentence?

Can you use both ‘on to’ and ‘onto’ in the same sentence? Well, yes, absolutely. So long as it makes sense to do so. Here are some example sentences that use both:

She stepped onto the bus and traveled on to the city center.

Can you pass the message on to Suzie once you get onto the plane?

Can you add a bedroom on to the house plans, then pop them onto the table for Ben to see when he arrives?

Concluding Thoughts for 'On To' or 'Onto'

Hopefully, you’ll agree that the difference is relatively easy to grasp, and you will feel confident that you’ll be able to choose the appropriate one to use in each context.

Now that you understand the different meanings better, why not increase your mastery of confusing words by reading our blog?

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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