“In” and “into” are two prepositions that students often misuse; their meanings are quite similar, of course, but each has its own specific usage. The simplest way to break it down is to think about what is happening in the sentence. If the preposition you need refers to the position of something, then “in” is the correct word to use. If you need a preposition referring to the direction of movement of something, then “into” is more appropriate. See the examples below for an illustration of this.
The boss asked her employee to step into her office. (direction of motion)
The papers we had been searching for were in her office all along. (position)
Mr. Jacobson trudged into the swamp. (direction of motion)
Mr. Jacobson was in the swamp when the alligator swam by. (position)
There are cases in which “in” is part of a phrasal verb, and therefore “in to” is the proper construction. Examples include “hand in” and “break in.” The test for a phrasal verb is to check if the verb has the same meaning with or without the preposition. “To break” is different from “to break in,” so “break in” is its own phrasal verb construction. Even if this verb involves motion, not position, “in” is part of the verb; for this reason, “into” is inappropriate.
Melissa broke in to the apartment through the window.
Jason asked to be let in to the basement through the back door.
When considering which of these options to use, a simple checklist can be used. Is the preposition “in” part of a phrasal verb that alters the meaning of the verb? If so, use “in to.” If not: is the preposition indicating the motionless position of something? If so, use “in.” If not, “into” is likely the best preposition to use! You can confirm this by assessing if it correctly indicates direction of motion.
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