English Language Blog

“Onto” vs. “on to” Posted by on Aug 8, 2013 in English Grammar


Today we are going to take a closer look at how to use the similar sounding and looking words “onto” and “on to.” Misusing these words by interchanging them, as though they were the same thing, is a common mistake that even native speakers make. But hopefully after reading this post you will always know how to correctly use these words in your writing. So let’s see how “onto” and “on to” are used differently.

Onto – by definition this word means to be in a position “on” something, to be on top of, or upon. For example: He hopped onto the seat of his bike and rode away. Onto can also mean ‘fully aware of’ or ‘informed about.’ For example: The police were onto what the criminals planned to do next.

On to – the use of on to is the connection of the adverb “on” and the proposition “to” and belongs to a verbal phrase. For example: He held on to the handlebars of his bike as he rode.

The Chicago Manual of Style, which is a manual for how to properly write in English, gives the following hint to help you decide if you should use “onto” or “on to” if you are still stuck. Mentally say “up” before “on” and if the sentence still makes sense, then “onto” is probably the right choice. For example: He hopped (up) onto the seat of his bike and rode away – that works. He held (up) on to the handlebars of his bike as he rode – that doesn’t work.

Now, here is your chance to figure out which to use, “on to” or “onto.” Try this exercise to see how you do using the new information you learned above. Then scroll down to the answers below. Good luck!

Practice exercise:

1. The boy climbed (on to / onto) the roof.

2. Perry invited Cynthia to step (on to / onto) the dance floor for a dance.

3. I held (on to / onto) the kite string with all my might.

4. She held (on to / onto) her child’s hand in the crowd.

5. We canceled Jess’s surprise party when we realized she was (on to / onto) our plan.

6. After you log (on to / onto) the Internet will you check something for me?

7. Jim finished his math homework and moved (on to / onto) doing his science homework.

8. The children jumped (on to / onto) the bed to play as soon as their mother wasn’t looking.



1. onto
2. onto
3. on to
4. on to
6. on to
7. on to
8. onto

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.