Preposition of Direction: to in(to) on(to)

What are prepositions of direction

Prepositions are words that show the relationship between nouns and other words in a sentence. For you to describe a certain direction you need to relate it with movement. When we go to prepositions of direction then, we can define it as words that are accompanied in front of nouns and pronouns to indicate the direction which something moves.

It is good to understand prepositions because they will definitely help you in description while writing your essays. Some of the compound preposition when used separately may bring different meaning.

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Types of preposition of direction

Preposition of direction can be classified into simple or compound prepositions. There are various examples of prepositions of direction and each has its unique application in a sentence. Below are some of the prepositions of direction that you are likely to encounter in English:


This preposition is used to show movement, action or condition suggesting movement in the direction of a place, a thing or a person. You can use ‘to’ to show destination or indicate an action.

The preposition can be used with other phrases in a sentence to bring out specific meaning or stand by itself and still bring logic. For instance, you can use ‘onto’ to signify movement to a particular surface or ‘into’ to indicate getting to an interior of something. Examples of this applications include:

  •    I go to school by matatu
  •    The engineer travels to the site every evening to check the project progress.
  •     The president of the United Kingdom is heading to Malaysia for holiday.
  •    The traditional African society used to go to the mountain to pray against epidemics affecting the community.


This is a directional preposition indicating movement into an enclosed place or object.

  •    Parents usually do not entertain children who move into their room without knocking.
  •    The students walked into the cave to study history.
  •    The teacher asked the students who were making noise to get into the staffroom to receive their punishments.


Onto is used to mean a surface and not an enclosed place. It should be used while describing movement in an open place.

  •    The cat got onto the sofa when we arrived.
  •    The luggage was packed onto the awaiting truck.
  •    The waves swiped the boat from the sea onto the show easily.


This is a preposition of direction that specifies the destination that one is heading to. You may be moving to a certain direction but do not specify the destination that you are headed, so towards is used to indicate the direction and destination by associating the movement with the destination. Examples in sentences include:

  •    I had to run towards shelter when it started raining.
  •    The network of communication improves as you get towards the city.

The main prepositions of direction are in, into, on, onto, towards and through but there are other prepositions that can also be classified into this category because they do bring the impression of movement to a specific direction.

Some of these prepositions include:


The preposition across just from the words cross means to move from one side to another. There has to be crossing somewhere. For this preposition to be well applicable there has to be two points that are beside each other so that it comes in as the bridging for the two. Some of the examples of its application include:

  •    When you travel to highlands you need to get a boat to take you across the ocean.
  •    The zebra crossing is usually white paintings across the road.
  •    The garbage is spear across the street.


We get the preposition along from the word line, meaning along indicates movement of something or somebody in a certain line. Along is used while describing a certain length that something covers in a line. Some of the uses in a sentence include:

  •    The cattle grazed along the road.
  •    cassava is planted along the river so as to obtain sufficient water for development.


This preposition is used to indicate movement in a circular direction. Examples include:

  •    the matatu has to move around the city picking passengers.
  •    The tourist had a walk around the park with the help of the guides.


This preposition is used to show the elevation of the direction that something is going. Examples in a sentence:

  •    He got an accident while running down the valley.
  •    I prefer riding down the hill because it’s less tiresome.


This preposition indicates away from something.

  •    The police asked the manager to get the car off the road due to its condition.
  •    The students were asked to get off the train before it overturned.


This preposition is used to show two directions at the same time; that is moving up and in a forward direction. Examples in a sentence include:

  •    The horse jumped over the fence when fire started.
  •    For you to reach the chief’s homestead you need to cross over the bridge to the next village.


Past is used to indicate beyond something. It is derived from the word passing. Some of its examples in a sentence are:

  •    We moved past the hill before we encountered the raiders.
  •    You will find the hardware just past the main junction.


This is a preposition that is used to describe the action of passing an enclosed region. A good example in a sentence is:

We had to pass through the tunnel to reach the safety room.


Up is a preposition of direction as it indicates vertical movement from the ground in whichever elevation. Example of its application in a sentence include;

  •    The fat thug was unable to run up the hill and therefore was caught by the police officers.
  •    We climbed up the mountain during our hike in Mt Everest.

Comparison of directional prepositions.

It is vague that most people are likely to confuse the prepositions of directions because some nearly mean the same thing. Below are some of the common confused prepositions of direction and how to differentiate them from one another.

Into vs in to

Into indicate movement or an action and it means to the interior of something. It answers the question, where?

e.g After the news, she crawled into her bed.

On the other hand, we can see that in the preposition ‘in to’, in is a verb phrase and therefore acts as an adverb whereas to is the preposition.

e.g you are either in to lose or win.

e.g the rescuers went back in, to save the survivors.

From those examples we can see that into is used as a preposition but when it gets separated ‘in’ becomes an adverb phrase.

Onto vs on to

It is good to differentiate onto and on to because when used differently it brings a different meaning in your sentence.

Onto is used to mean upon or something landed on. An example includes:

The Cat jumped onto the floor. (meaning the cat landed on the floor)

On the other hand, ‘on to’ comes with a different meaning altogether because ‘on’ in this case is used as an adverb.

Examples in a sentence:

The driver held on to the steering wheel when the car started skidding.

Toward vs towards

Toward and towards both are prepositions but have different applications in a sentence depending on the audience. The only difference between the two preposition is your audience. Toward without an ‘s’ is used while using American English while towards is used in British or Australian English. Otherwise both can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing.

Compound prepositions

Having learned about different prepositions of direction it is also good to know the meaning of compound prepositions. Compound prepositions are prepositions that have prefixes.

The prefixes come before a noun to form the preposition. Some of the typical examples of preposition of direction that fall in this category are;

  • Along- we can see that in this case ‘a’ has been added as a prefix to the noun long to from along.
  • Across- we can see that in the preposition across, the prefix ’a’ has been added to the noun cross.
  • Around- from the preposition, we can also see that round is a noun and a prefix has been added to it to make it a preposition.


We have seen several examples of preposition of direction and its application. It is clear that these are prepositions that are used to describe movement. Some of the common examples of prepositions of direction that you may come across include: in, into, on, onto, towards and through. It is good to understand the prepositions of direction because they will help you when it comes to the description of movements.

It is also good to go through the various examples given because they do help in ensuring that you do not confuse any of the prepositions. Having gone through this guide am confident that from now henceforth you cannot mess when it comes to prepositions of directions because you have all it takes to handle such in all cases.

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