Author Topic: Part 9 - The preposition as another type of functional connective - 3  (Read 9617 times)

Joe Carillo

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Timely Reacquaintance with Connectives and Discourse Markers

For 12 consecutive days from June 1 to June 12, 2020, the Forum is running a special retrospective of its comprehensive series in 2017 on the English connectives and discourse markers. These connectives—the coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, prepositions, and discourse markers—are the basic tools of English for enabling readers or listeners to navigate the sense and logic of what’s written or being spoken about. Today, the series takes up the prepositions that serve as connectives for indicating motion and direction.

Part 9 - The preposition as another type of functional connective - 3

Continuing our discussions of prepositions as connectives, let’s now review them as connectives for indicating motion and direction.

The prepositions of motion “to,” “toward,” “in,” “into,” and “onto”: They connect the verbs of movement to their object destination.

“To” indicates movement toward a specific destination: “They took me to the polling precinct.” (Here, “polling precinct” is the specific destination.)

“Toward” indicates movement in a general direction that may not reach a specific destination: “Helen drove toward the polling precinct.” (Here, we only know that Helen drove in the direction of that polling precinct; we don’t know if she ever got there.)

“Into” indicates movement into an enclosed space: “He was the first voter to go into the polling booth.”

But “in” should be used when the preposition is the last word of the sentence, or when it occurs right before an adverb of time (“this morning,” “today,” “tomorrow”), manner (“quickly,” “hurriedly”), or frequency (“once,” “twice”): Examples: “He was the first to go in.” “He was the first to go in this morning.” “He went in twice.”
“Into” can be used as the last word in an information question: “What sort of predicament have you gotten yourself into?”

But use “in” when that question is rendered in this form: “What sort of predicament are you in?”   

“Onto,” when used with verbs of motion, can generally be replaced by “on”: “The boys jumped on [instead of “onto”] the bed.

The prepositions of direction “to,” “onto,” and “into”: The preposition “to” is the basic preposition of direction; “onto” and “into” are compounds when “to” is added to the prepositions of location “on” and “in.”


“To” indicates an orientation toward a goal: For a physical goal, such as a destination, “to” indicates a movement in the direction of that goal: “The voters will troop to the polls today.” (Here, the physical goal is “the polls.”)

If the goal isn’t physical—say, an action—then “to” simply puts the verb in the infinitive form to express purpose: “The candidates from all camps made every effort to win.” (Here, “to win” is an infinitive expressing purpose.)

“Onto” indicates movement toward a surface: “The promenaders strayed onto the skating rink.” (Here, “the skating rink” is construed as a surface.)

“Into” indicates movement inside a finite, three-dimensional space or volume: “The chef dumped the vegetable mix into the wok.” (Here, “wok” is construed as a finite volume.)

We must take note, though, that when used with many verbs of motion, “on” and “in” already indicate a directional meaning. They can therefore be freely used instead of “onto” or “into”: “The promenaders strayed on [instead of “onto”] the skating rink.” “The chef dumped the vegetable mix in [instead of “into”] the wok.”

Here’s a good rule of thumb for choosing between the compound prepositions “onto” and “into” and the simple prepositions “on” and “in”: Use “onto” and “into” to indicate completion of an action, and use “on” and “in” to indicate the subject’s end-position as a result of that action.

Completion of an action: “The cat jumped onto [or “to”] the ground.” “The boy jumped into [or “to”] the hole.”

End-position of the subject: “The cat is on the ground.” “The boy is in the hole.”

The preposition “at” as a preposition of motion and preposition of direction: Use “at” to mark a verb of motion directed toward a point: “They arrived at the election precinct right before closing.” “The boxer jabbed at his opponent with a devastating left hook.”

Use “at” to indicate the direction of a specific action: “To stop it, the rescuers leaped at the runaway train.” “The poll watchers jumped at the ballot-box snatcher with fierce determination.”

(Next: The preposition as another type of functional connective - 4)      June 10, 2020
« Last Edit: June 10, 2020, 01:15:04 AM by Joe Carillo »