22 September 2020

Let's delve into some word usage issues

English is an interesting, intricate language. No matter how much I know, there's always more to learn. Today I'm continuing an occasional series on words and their usage.

In versus Into

Did you know there's a difference between when to use in versus into? I didn't until I got a recent copy edit back on a story coming out later this year. The copy editor didn't explain why one word was right and the other wrong, but thankfully, we have a little thing called the internet these days, so I was able to consult the quite helpful Cambridge Dictionary. It explained that you use in when addressing where someone or something is right now. You use into when addressing where someone or something is going. Right now, for instance, I am in my kitchen. Later I will walk into my bedroom. I can toss a scrap of paper into the recycle bin. When it lands, it will be in the bin.

What is up with the word up?

There are so many words and word phrases that include the word up, and I see people use the wrong spelling often. For instance, should you use ...
  • setup or set up
  • hookup or hook up
  • makeup or make up
  • pickup or pick up
  • breakup or break up
  • giveup or give ... wait, there's no such word as giveup. Never mind. 
But as to the others, here's the general rule: When you're using the word as a noun, use one word. When you want a verb, use two words. Here are some examples:

  • I set up the camera so it was aimed at the table setup, enabling me to catch the silverware thief.
  • The evil man laughed and said, "I set up your sister for the fall, and it worked." The honorable man replied, "I knew it was a setup, and now the police do too." Then he revealed the wire under his shirt.
  • I hooked up the customer's disabled car to my tow truck, hoping we'd have a hookup later.
  • On the way out of the bar with Jim, my newest hookup, I ran smack into Bob, the tow-truck driver I hooked up with yesterday.
  • My friend Ann hasn't spoken to me since I dropped her makeup bag and her favorite eye shadow cracked. She won't make up with me, no matter how much I beg.
  • The makeup of my days has changed since I stopped begging Ann to make up with me. Now instead of wasting all my time on unanswered texts, I'm hooking up with her boyfriend. (See, hook up can be helpful in all kinds of scenarios.)
  • My brother stole a red pickup. Now he gets to pick up trash by the side of the road as part of his sentence.
  • I wanted to break up with Troy, but my last five breakups happened in this bar too, so I decided to wait until tomorrow and do it over the phone. I'm nice that way.
Sorry to be brief, but I'm out of time. Hope this has been helpful.


  1. Great post, Barb. I was taught the in versus into rule at school, almost thirtyfive years ago. But I see so many violations that I began wondering if the rule still existed... I greatly enjoyed your funny examples of the up-rule. They're like very short stories. Keep it up, Barb!

  2. There are legions of self-published writers out there who will have no idea what you're talking about. Those who write "she lead the dog into the kitchen," for example. Then the woman made herself a "slow gin fizz." Thank you for pointing out there are standards! (Sniff.) It isn't being schoolmarmish; it's a matter of not wanting to jolt your reader out of the story!

  3. Excellent.I have trouble with my spellcheck,(and sometimes Grammarly), trying to 'correct' me with the wrong setup when I set up a sentence.
    I worked hard to hook up my grandson's hookup when she wanted writing advice. When she would put the wrong choices into her work,I would hand them in to her with corrections.

  4. And then there was the scientist who wrote this Pb me to believe . ..

  5. I enjoy these columns. I hadn't noticed that the noun form had progressed from set-up to setup. I still prefer the hyphen but I see that this may have to be a give-up form (doesn't quite work yet, does it?).

  6. Ah, it's all in the details, isn't it?
    And, thanks vweisfeld for the "slow gin fizz"! Well, at least we know the author's not a major alcoholic...

  7. Very helpful. Just before I read this I read this piece about language, which was also interesting: http://www.everygoddamnday.com/2020/07/druthers.html

  8. The attention to detail is worthwhile. Errors interfere with the enjoyment of the story. <3

  9. Oh, I smiled at hookup! Well done, Barb! Super column.

  10. Hey, everybody. Thanks for commenting. :)

    Anne, you know I love writing short stories, no matter the format.

    And Vicki, yes, one thing I always tell clients is not to do something that might jolt a reader out of the story. I had someone tell me once that she wants her readers to be jolted out, for them to stop and think and look up words so they can learn new ones and whatnot. But I want readers to keep turning pages and not realize hours are passing and the sun has set, and suddenly they turn the page and they've reached the end and they don't know how they've gotten there. As a writer and a reader, that's a satisfying experience.

  11. Well, Barb, I will beg to differ slightly about the "jolting the reader" - it depends on what kind of story someone's telling. I'm thinking of the Aubrey Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, set in the Napoleonic Wars, with a wealth of sailing details and historical accuracy, which means that every once in a while I had to look up words. And it was just fine with me. If I'm going into that much history, I'm in whole hog.
    But otherwise, yeah. Like the person who wrote the story / book set in the 1950s and had people referring to women as "Ms." WRONG.

  12. Useful stuff. In - into and the ups. Your listing of the differences is very helpful. Thanks.

  13. Loved seeing this today, Barb. In journalism school, I was taught the same rule regarding paired words such as "set up" vs. "setup." Thanks so much for sharing.


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