The Grammarphobia Blog

How to turn into a driveway

Q: If I “turn into” a driveway, am I located in the driveway or have I become the driveway? In other words, does a driver “turn into” or “turn in to” a driveway? I’ve found many conflicting answers on the Internet.

A: A driver “turns into” a driveway. And no, that doesn’t mean he becomes a driveway. It means he enters one.

The phrase “turn into” can be read correctly in two ways—to enter (“the driver turned into my lane”) or to become (“the prince turned into a frog”).

The context makes clear which meaning is intended. No one would ever think that the driver was transformed into a stretch of pavement, or that the prince somehow got inside a frog.

It’s not true, as many websites claim, that “turn into” always means to become, and that you should use “turn in to” for any other meaning.

You can enter a driveway by “turning into” it, just as you can “drive into” or “walk into” or “go into” one. This sense of “turn into” can be found in any dictionary.

Within its entry for the verb “turn,” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) has the definition “to direct one’s way or course,” illustrated with this example: “The truck turned into the gas station.”

Merriam-Webster Unabridged has a similar definition, with the example “turn a car into a stream of traffic.”

The phrase has been used that way for hundreds of years. This May 29, 1672, example from the domestic state papers of King Charles II orders damaged warships to turn into a swale, or depression, filled with water:

“The Earl of Arlington to Major Darell. You are to order a vessel to lie a little off the fort, at the entrance into the river, with directions to warn all maimed and disabled ships coming from the fleet to turn into the Swale, where they are to be repaired, and not to proceed up into the river.”

When used with a verb showing motion or change, “into” has a number of meanings that concern entering a place or a condition.

Among other things, “into” can mean toward—either to the inside of (“he turned into the garage”) or in the direction of (“he was looking into space”).

It can also indicate a contact with (“he crashed into the garbage can”), a state (“he got into trouble with his wife”), or a transformation (“his relief turned into dismay”).

The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of “turn into” used to mean both “to direct one’s course; to set oneself to go in a particular direction,” and “to change into … to become.”

People who mistakenly criticize that first use of “turn into” may be unaware of the difference between a phrasal verb (like “turn in”) that incorporates the adverb “in,” and an ordinary verb of motion (like “turn”) that’s properly followed by the preposition “into.”

A phrasal verb is a single idiomatic unit consisting of a verb plus an adverb, a preposition, or both. Examples: “break down” (collapse), “see to” (handle), “look forward to” (anticipate).

The phrasal verb “turn in” consists of the verb “turn” and the adverb (“in”), and means to hand over or to go to bed.

And when “in” is part of a phrasal verb, it’s always separate, even if “to” comes right after it. Examples: “The pistol was turned in to a police officer” … “The pistol was turned in to make sure it didn’t fall into the wrong hands.”

A few other common phrasal verbs are “give in” (to surrender), “drop in” (to visit), “chip in” (to contribute), and “tune in” (to listen).

Here are some examples in which “to” connects a phrasal verb with an object and with an infinitive.

“Applications must be turned in to the registrar” …  “Applications must be turned in to insure candidacy.”

“He would not give in to the demands” … “He would not even give in to save his life.”

“Did you drop in to the office party?” … “Did you drop in to say hello?”

“We’ll all chip in to the office kitty” … “We’ll all chip in to buy a gift.”

“Let’s tune in to the program” … “Let’s tune in to learn something new.”

It should be noted that many verbs—”give,” “drop,” “chip,” and others in addition to “turn”—are used with “into” when they’re not part of phrasal verbs.

For instance, a valuable can be “given into” someone’s keeping. A pebble can be “dropped into” a hole. A sculptor can “chip into” a piece of marble.

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