Preposition of Direction


A preposition of direction tells where to go or where to put something. Some examples are to, on, onto, in, into, towards and through are used to describe the direction. Prepositions of direction show us to where or in which direction something moves.

The basic preposition of a direction is "to."

To: indicates orientation toward a goal.

When the goal is real, such as a destination, "to" involves movement in the order of the goal. When the goal is not a physical place, for instance, an action, "to" marks a verb; it is dedicated as a participle and states purpose. The preposition may happen alone or in the phrase in order. 

The two uses can also occur together in a single sentence: We flew from Paris to New York to see our elder brother.

The other two prepositions of direction are combinations formed by adding "to" to the interrelated prepositions of location.

The preposition of location determines the meaning of the preposition of direction.

ON + TO = onto: signifies movement toward a surface
IN + TO = into: signifies movement toward the interior of a capacity

("To" is part of the directional preposition toward, and the two mean about the same thing.)

"On" and "In" have a directional meaning and can be used along with "onto" and "into."
  • The paper went into the litter can.
Point of subject: the paper is in the garbage can.
  • The whale washed up onto the seashore.
Point of subject: the whale is on the shore.

In other cases, "to" is used as an ordinary preposition.
Verbs of communication: listen, speak (but not tell), relate, appeal (in the sense of 'plead,' not 'be attractive')
Verbs of movement: move,  transfer, go, drive/ run/ swim/ walk/ride/ fly, travel

Note that 'up to' is often used to express movement to a person. The preposition 'to' is sometimes used to indicate a specific position, especially if a person or object is facing something. The preposition towards indicates movement in a particular direction. Through usually suggests movement across an entire space, from one side of something to another. The preposition into refers to movement from the outside to the inside of a three dimensional space.

Preposition of Direction Definition

The most common prepositions used when expressing movement toward something are -To, On (to), In (to). To, into, and onto relate to the prepositions of location at, in, and on.

The core function of the preposition in is as an indicator of the position of something in relation to the three-dimensional space that surrounds it. However, in can also be used to express movement towards the inside of a container, place or area.

Uses of "Onto"

"Onto" can generally be replaced by "on" with verbs of motion.
Some verbs of motion express the idea that the subject causes itself or some physical object to be located in a certain place 
    • The plane landed on the runway. (not "onto" the runway)
    • Maria hung the decoration on the Christmas tree. (not "onto" the tree)
    • Joanna spilled her Coke on the rug. (not "onto" the rug)
    • Sammy moved the chair on(to) the deck.
    • The crane lowered the roof on(to) the house.
    • The baby threw the pot on(to) the floor.
    • The farmer scattered seed on(to) the fertile ground.
    • We're adding on a wing at the back of the building.
    • We're adding a porch onto the house.
In "We're adding on a wing at the back of the building," "on" is really part of the verb, while in "We're adding a porch onto the house," "onto" is a simple preposition. 

Simple prepositions can combine with verbs, but compound prepositions cannot.

Except for "hang," which takes both "on" and "onto," the following verbs all occur only with "on." 
  • Hang on / Hang onto the rope ("continue to grasp tightly")
  • Carry on ("resume what you were doing")
  • Sail on ("resume or continue sailing")
  • Dream on ("continue dreaming"; a humorous way of saying "that is an unachievable goal")
  • Lead on ("resume or continue leading us")
  • Rock on ("continue playing rock music")

Uses of "Into"

With verbs of motion, "into" and "in" are interchangeable except when the preposition is the last word or occurs directly before an adverbial of time, manner, or frequency.

In this case, only "in" (or "inside") can be used.
  • The patient went into the doctor's office. The patient went in. (not "into")
  • Our new neighbors moved into the house next door yesterday. ("to take up residence in a new home'")
  • Our new neighbors moved in yesterday.
In "Our new neighbors move in yesterday," the last word is the time adverbial yesterday, so the object of the preposition in can be omitted. Of course, in an information question, "into" also can be last word except for an adverbial when its object is questioned by a wh- word:

  • Now what kind of trouble has she gotten herself into?
  • Now what sort of trouble is she in?
Verbs signifying stationary position take only "on" or "in" with the ordinary meanings of those prepositions.If a verb allows the object of the preposition to be omitted, the construction may have an idiomatic meaning.
  • The cat sat on the mat.
  • The doctor is in his office.
  • The doctor is in. ('available for consultation')
"In(to)" has two special uses with "move." When "move in" is followed by a purpose clause, it has the sense of "approach."
  • The lion moved in for the kill.
  • The police moved in to rescue the hostages inside the building.
When "into" is used with move, it functions as an ordinary preposition to convey the idea of moving something from one place to another.
  • We'll move your brother's old bed into your room.
At times it’s a little confusing to decide when to use in and when to use on.
  • I’m in the car; I’ll be home in a minute.
It’s logical to be in a car.
  • I’m on the bus; I’ll be home in a minute.
  • I’m on the train; I’ll be home in a minute.
  • I’m on the plane; I’ll be home in a few hours.
It’s not so logical to be on a bus or a train or a plane, yet that’s the way we say it. While you are on the plane, i.e. inside the plane, there is also a logo on the plane, and two wings on the plane, though they’re not inside with you. 


The preposition to indicates movement with the aim of a specific destination, which can be a place or an event
    • We went to London last week.
    • He sent a message to his mother.
    • He came up to me and asked me what the time was.
    • There’s a door to your left.
    • He stood with his back to the window.
    • She was carrying a suitcase and walking towards him.
    • He kicked the ball towards the goal.

Through and into

The preposition through refers to movement within a space which can be thought of as three-dimensional
    • He put the money in / into his pocket.
    • The man fell in / into the river.
    • They drove through the tunnel.
    • Water runs through pipes to your house.
    • He looked straight into her eyes.
    • She swerved and crashed into the fence

Across, over and along

The prepositions across and over are used to talk about movement from one side of a place to another. They usually refer to movement in relation to places which can be thought of as two-dimensional, such as surfaces (e.g: a lawn) or lines (e.g: a river), for example:
    • The thief climbed over the fence.
    • The cat jumped over the wall.
    • The plane flew over London.
    • I’ll jump over the wall and open the gate.
    • There was a mirror above/over the sink.
    • The hotel is over the bridge.
    • I followed Mr Jackson along the corridor.
Across is sometimes used to express position in relation to something which stretches from one side of a place to another. Across, like over, is also used to show when something is positioned on the opposite side of a place in relation to the speaker.The preposition along is used to show movement following a line. It is also sometimes used to show a specific position in relation to a line, or to show when a group of things are positioned in a line next to something.

Preposition of Direction Examples

Examples of Preposition of Direction:
  • He lives in Sweden but he’s from New York.
  • We cycled from Paris to Brussels in five days.
  • The hikers walked up the hill.
  • The women are running up the hill.
  • The ball rolled down the hill.
  • She took her purse out / out of her bag.
  • She got out / out of the car and walked to the house.
  • The rabbit crawled under the fence.
  • The secret tunnel ran under the Berlin Wall.
  • The walked round / around the other side of the church.
  • They were having a eat al fresco in the park.
  • I’ve left my bag in the office.
  • The money is in the lower drawer of my desk.
  • Can you put the milk in the fridge?
  • The farmer fired a few shots in the air.
  • I’ll keep the letter in my briefcase.
  • I’ll put the letter in my briefcase.
  • There was a beautiful painting on the wall.
  • We could hear the rain falling on the roof.
  • Let’s get back onto the path.
  • She went to the library.
  • He jumped into the river.
  •  He ran away when he felt that someone was coming toward him.
  • I’m travelling to Europe tomorrow.
  • I need to go to the Post Office.
  • Can you tell me the way to the station?
  • Are you going to the party?
  • I’ve never been to a football match.
  • What time did you go to work?
  • We quickly moved the conversation onto a new subject.
  • Put the book into the box.

Preposition of Direction Exercises

Complete the following sentences with the correct preposition: to, toward, on, onto, in, or into. Some sentences may have more than one possible correct answer. Remember that a few verbs of motion take only "on" rather than "onto."

  1. The plane landed ______ the runway.
  2. The kids climbed ______ the monkey bars.
  3. The dog jumped ______ the lake.
  4. The baby spilled his rye______ the floor.
  5. James got ______ Tom's car.
  6. Are the boys still swimming ______ the pool?
  7. We cried to the man on the ladder, "Hang ______!"
  8. Annabelle has returned ______ her home town.
  9. John fell ______ the floor.
  10. We drove _____ the river for an hour but turned north before we reached it.
  11. Peter drove Helen ______ the airport.
  12. The plane was headed __________ a storm cloud.
  13. I went ______ the gym.
  14. The waitress noticed that there was no more Diet Pepsi ______ Cedric's glass.
  15. Patricia almost fell ______ the river.
  16. Allan left your keys ______ the table.
  17. Mariam jumped ______ the stage and danced.
  18. Drive __________ the city limits and turn north.
  19. Iman and Sarah took the bus that was heading ______ the university.
  20. Dr. Casper apologized for interrupting us and told us to carry ______ with our discussion.
  21. Echelles and Michelle moved the table ______ the dining room.
  22. I walk ______ the amusement park.