Onto vs. On to: When to Use On to vs. Onto (with Useful Examples)

When it comes to writing, choosing the right preposition can sometimes be a bit tricky, especially when two options like “onto” and “on to” sound almost identical. But fear not, we are here to clear up any confusion about when to use each term. Understanding the difference between the two can really polish our writing and help us communicate our ideas more effectively.

Onto vs. On to: the Key Differences

Onto vs. On toPin

Key Takeaways

ONTO is a preposition that can have two different meanings, “on top of” and “fully aware of”. ON TO, on the other hand, are two words where “on” is a part of the phrasal verb that comes before it.


  • The waves frothed as they crashed onto the beach.
  • Many young people are opting to go on to college.

Understanding the Basics

Meaning of Onto

“Onto” is a preposition that indicates movement towards a surface or a position atop another object. It implies a motion that results in contact with a surface. For example:

  • The cat jumped onto the couch.

Meaning of On to

“On to,” on the other hand, consists of two separate words: the preposition “on” followed by the word “to.” It is used when “on” is part of a verb phrase. An example would be:

  • We are moving on to the next chapter in the book.

How to Use Onto vs. On to Correctly?

Let’s look at a few examples to make the distinction clearer. For instance, when you say that someone climbed onto the roof, onto is spelled as one word because it shows that this person climbed on top of the roof. Or, let’s say that one of your friends has been robbed. After they contact the police and say which items were stolen, the police will be onto the robbers. What you mean by this is that the police will be fully aware of, or informed about the robbers and that now they will do everything possible to catch them.

However, when you’re saying something like, “Joanna is going on to high school”on to is spelled as two words. The reason behind this is that going on is a phrasal verb. The same applies to when someone is saying, “Let’s move on to the next step”. Because move on is a phrasal verb, you need to spell on to as two words, not one.

To sum up, onto is a preposition that usually has to do with movement, while in on toon is a part of a phrasal verb. To check whether you are using the correct word, try placing “up” before the word in question. If it works, then you need to go for onto. For example, you can say both “He climbed onto the tree” and “He climbed up onto the tree”, so onto, indeed, should be one word.

Helpful Tips for Using “Onto” and “On to”

We can employ a couple of simple tricks to ensure that we’re using “onto” and “on to” accurately:

  • Replace with “upon”: If you can substitute “onto” with “upon” and the sentence still makes sense, “onto” is likely the right choice.
  • Verb Phrase Check: If “on” is part of a verb phrase, followed by “to,” then “on to” is the correct usage.

Using these simple tips can help us avoid mistakes and communicate more clearly in our writing.

Onto vs. On to Examples

 “Onto”  Examples

  • She climbed onto the roof to retrieve the lost ball.
  • The cat jumped onto the windowsill to bask in the sunlight.
  • Be careful not to drop any paint onto the carpet.
  • The children held onto the merry-go-round as it spun around.
  • He uploaded the documents onto the shared drive for everyone to access.

 “On to” Examples

  • After finishing the chapter, she moved on to the next one.
  • The detective is on to the suspect and is closely monitoring his movements.
  • Once you have mastered this skill, we can move on to something more challenging.
  • The con artist thought he was clever, but the police were on to him.
  • After the meeting, let’s move on to discussing the upcoming event.

Practice and Mastery

To truly master the differences between “onto” and “on to,” we must engage with targeted exercises that hone our ability to select the appropriate phrase.

Exercises for Onto

For “onto” practice, we will focus on sentences where the phrase indicates movement to the top of something or a position of being atop something.

  1. The cat jumped ___ the roof. (Answer: onto)
  2. Place the books ___ the shelf neatly. (Answer: onto)
  3. She stepped ___ the train as it arrived. (Answer: onto)
  4. The frosting was spread ___ the cake evenly. (Answer: onto)
  5. They moved ___ a new phase in the project. (Answer: onto)

Each blank should be aptly filled with “onto” to denote the action directed towards a surface or position.

Exercises for On to

In these exercises, we ensure that “on” is part of a phrasal verb or indicates a continuation or transition.

  1. She is moving ___ the next chapter in the textbook. (Answer: on to)
  2. Hold ___ your hats; we are moving ___ bigger challenges. (First Answer: on to, Second Answer: on to)
  3. I caught ___ his dubious reasoning quickly. (Answer: on to)
  4. Once you wrap up here, we’ll go ___ the last part of our assignment. (Answer: on to)
  5. He held ___ the rope as he swung ___ the next platform. (First Answer: on, Second Answer: on to)

Here, “on to” is correctly used to convey continuation or the act of proceeding with something, separate from the “on” in the verb phrase.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between “onto” and “on to”?

  • Onto implies movement towards a surface or position and is often equivalent to “on top of” or “to a position on.”
  • On to is used when “on” is part of the verb phrase. For example, “to move on” followed by “to a new subject.”

When should I use “onto”?

We use “onto” when referring to moving or placing something on a surface or when gaining understanding about something:

  • The cat jumped onto the couch.
  • I’m finally onto the solution of the puzzle.

When should I use “on to”?

We use “on to” in the context of continuing an action or moving to the next item:

  • After discussing the budget, we moved on to the marketing plan.
  • Can we go on to the next topic now?

Is there a trick to remember when to use “onto” vs. “on to”?

Yes, a helpful trick is to insert “up” before “on” and see if the sentence still makes sense. If it does, “onto” is usually correct:

  • The bird flew up onto the roof. (Correct)
  • We will carry up on to the discussion tomorrow. (Doesn’t make sense; use “on to”)

Can “onto” and “on to” ever be used interchangeably?

In most cases, they are not interchangeable because they serve different grammatical purposes. However, careful consideration of the meaning you wish to convey will guide you in choosing correctly.