- On December 6, 2016
Fidel Castro held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II.
So read a line in the Cuban leader’s recent obituary, which was enlightening for many reasons, one being its appropriate use of on and to following the verb held.
When to use in to and on to as opposed to into and onto is tricky—I’m often stumped—so I looked up the rules. Here they are in broad strokes:
• Use into when you are talking about entering something, as in, He got into the elevator; making contact with something, as in, I bumped into the wall; or changing the form of something, as in, She turned into a health nut after she lost five pounds.
• Use onto when you are referring to something, or someone, being on top of something, as in, They climbed up onto the roof of the house and then jumped off the side onto the trampoline down below. You also use onto when you’re conveying that you are aware of something, as in, I’m onto your sneaky ways.
Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I, shares these tips for remembering which to use:
• If you are conveying a sense of moving ahead or moving along, use on to, as in, After arguing for five hours, we moved on to another subject or After stopping for dinner in Fort Lauderdale, we drove on to Miami.
• If you can drop in without losing the meaning, you want in to, for example, Bring the guests (in) to me, then we’ll all go (in) to dinner.
Some verbs are called phrasal verbs. They are made up of a verb and a preposition or a verb and an adverb—into and onto are prepositions, in and on can be prepositions or adverbs—and have different meanings than the verbs alone. Log in is a phrasal verb, so you log in to your computer—not into it.
In this excellent list of phrasal verbs hold onto is defined as to hold something or someone firmly using your hands or arms. But Castro held on to (not onto) power because no matter how powerful you are, you can’t physically hold power.
English is tricky. I hope this helps.