'Log Onto' or 'Log On To'? Prepositions with Phrasal Verbs

Would you write about how you log "onto" the Internet? Or would you make that log "on to”?

It seems that most people prefer the first one, which makes sense in a way because “onto” is the offspring of “on” and “to” – as if they just sort of melded into one word anytime they appear next to each other.

But it’s not always that simple. And to know whether you need “onto” or “on to,” or for that matter “into” or “in to,” you need to know about phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs are verbs composed of more than one word: throw up, shrug off, speak up, go on, make up, and many more. The first word is usually a regular verb and the second is often a preposition, though sometimes it can be more than one preposition, as in put up with.

They’re different from other verb-preposition combos – speak to, compare with, throw at, etc. – for one very important reason: the preposition doesn’t just work with the verb. It actually changes it. For example: “speak to” vs. “speak up.” The latter has an entirely different meaning. The preposition "up" actually changed the verb in a way that “to” could not.

So "speak up" is a phrasal verb. And that’s the key to understanding “log on” and “log in,” both of which are also phrasal verbs. To “log” would mean something different without the preposition. That’s why, in my view, “log on to” is superior to “log onto” and “log in to” is better than “log into.” The first preposition is actually part of the verb, so it's not like some other generic preposition that can be melded into another in "onto" and "into."

Of course we can also question whether “log onto” and “log into” are phrasal verbs in their own right. That’s not quite as clear – it’s determined by usage plus time, really. So time may tell. But for now, logging on is something you do and you may or may not being doing it "to" something else.

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