Grammar

Grammar Tip: On to vs. Onto

How do you know whether to use “onto,” or “on to” in your sentence? I find authors often confuse these two in work I edit, so here’s the tip I use to decide which one would be correct in any particular sentence.

Onto is a preposition that indicates either movement to a position on or in a state of awareness about.

On to is a combination of an adverb (“on”) and a preposition (“to”). The adverb “on” indicates position and the preposition “to” indicates movement.

You can see why these two may be frequently confused. Yet the following two sentences have very different end results:

  • I drove up Broadway and on to the bank to deposit my check.
  • I drove up Broadway and onto the bank to deposit my check.

In the first sentence, I’m just running an everyday errand, taking Broadway to get to my bank. In the second sentence, I’ve still driven up Broadway but I parked my car on top of the bank to deposit a check.

I actually picked up a trick from The Chicago Manual of Style on how to determine which of these two options to choose. If you can insert the word “up” before “on” and the sentence still makes sense, “onto” would be the correct choice to make.

Hall of Shame: Missing prepositions

Today’s Hall of Shame is brought to you by another online newspaper headline.

Rare tumor robs young woman’s voice

My first thought was wondering how the young woman’s voice was robbed? Was it at gunpoint? Maybe it was robbed of a register of vocal range.

No – what really happened was that a tumor caused surgeons to remove the young woman’s larynx. Her voice was not robbed. Instead she was robbed OF her voice. The author of the headline should have used a preposition (“of”) to show the correct relationship between “young woman” and “voice”.

Hall of Shame: Check your modifiers

Today’s “Hall of Shame” headline is a variation of a mistake that I have been enduring for years and every time I see it or hear it, I cringe.

Amanda Knox’s former Italian boyfriend engaged?

We’ll ignore the fact that it’s rather silly to pose this as a question to readers and the fact the presentation smacks of tabloidism. (It’s actually from an online news site, by the way.)

When many people read this sentence, I’m sure they understand that this refers to Italian citizen Rafaelle Sollecito who was the boyfriend of Amanda Knox at the time of her arrest for murder. They are no longer boyfriend/girlfriend, so he’s now her former boyfriend.

But if you look at the quote carefully, that’s not what it actually says.

Adjectives modify the noun closest to them, as a rule This quote instead says that Rafaelle is a formerly Italian but he is still Amanda Knox’s boyfriend. Unless Rafaelle was expelled from Italy and his citizenship revoked, this headline is an error. And it’s an error that seems to run like wildfire through the press for some reason I have yet to figure out. Laziness? Reliance on a single press service and accepting their errors?

This should actually read:

Amanda Knox’s Italian former boyfriend engaged?

Check your modifiers to make sure they are in the correct place.