Rogue Words from A to Z: On To An Occasion

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

A to Z Letter OWhen I was thinking about how to explain the difference between on to and onto, this poem about travelling came to mind.

On to is about the journey.

Onto is about the destination.

Imagine that you have decided to take a journey on foot to a distant land. To get to your destination, you must reach the crossroads.

So you walk on to the crossroads.

This sentence is describing your journey to the crossroads. It could take you all day to get there, or it could take you five minutes. (Let’s go for all night and into the morning β€” it sounds suitably epic.)

Finally, you reach your destination and walk onto the crossroads.

At this point you are walking on top of the crossroads. You have arrived at a certain point.

You take the King’s Road, which winds through an ancient forest situated on the side of a steep hill.

Crooked Forest, Nowe Czarnowo

A forest like this one…


Unfortunately, you are going in the uphill direction, so you need to start climbing instead of walking. Once you are partway up, you spot a giant tree that has fallen across the road at the very top of the hill.

You groan in irritation, but you continue to climb on to the tree.

This describes your journey to reach the tree.

Your legs are killing you when you finally get to the top of the hill. After a brief pause, you begin to climb onto the tree.

Thankfully it has lots of hand- and footholds, and you make it to the top without too much trouble. You have made it onto the tree. You have arrived at your destination.

As you sit on top of your giant tree-bench, you reward yourself with a second breakfast. As you munch away, you hear occasional birdsong floating down from the birds that have landed onto the branches of the tall trees. As you finish the last crumbs and decide to move on to the river, you suddenly become aware of the silence. When did the birds stop singing?

Uh oh. You had forgotten that monsters occasionally travel this way…

Bonus Word: Occasionally

Before ending our story, let’s look at the tricky word occasionally, which is a challenging word to spell. How can you remember it?

If you separate the base word and its suffix, you get occasion + ally.

On the rare occasion when you encounter a monster, it is good to have an ally with you. Luckily, you remembered to bring your magic ring on your forest journey, and you call your wolf spirit animal to your side.

So now let’s look at the word occasion. It’s made up of two parts as well: occa + sion.Β  The -sion suffix is recognizable β€” it’s also used in tension, which you felt before you remembered your magic ring.

This leaves us with occa.

Which is perfect, because with your wolf at your side, you are going to be ok-kay. After all, wolves like seconds breakfasts, too. πŸ˜‰


Have you ever been on a long journey?

Image of Crooked Forest, Nowe Czarnowo from Wikimedia Commons

(Shortly after writing this post, I saw this article about someone who doesn’t think onto is a word, and just had to share it here.)

This post is dedicated to everwalker and Rachel Small. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will pummel the pernicious letter P…


Β© Sue Archer at Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

48 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: On To An Occasion

    1. Hi, Richard! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I took a look over at yours and saw your recent post – it looks like you are channeling your fave author Dr. Seuss today. πŸ™‚ Is this one of his, or your own creation?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Enjoyed a lot your little story – thanks! My brain captured all the tricks to remember “on to” & “onto”. Have I been on a journey? Based on the definition “traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time”? yes, so many. On foot, in a car, a camper, a bus, etc…but none as challenging as the one of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. And preparing more….just a question of finding the time!

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  2. Such great explanations and examples! On to vs. onto (and similarly, in to vs. into) have never troubled me, but it does remind me of a theory from my grammar professor in college, who suggested that some prepositions function like a part of the verb. “Walk on” would be a good example of this type of situation, where “walk” and “walk on” have different meanings, making the preposition function like a part of the verb (which also throws a bit of a wrench into the rule about not ending sentences with prepositions, which sparked the conversation in the first place). It was interesting discussion that I’m probably not explaining as well as the professor did, but thought I’d share it nonetheless. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks for bringing these to mind, Kaitlin! I know them as phrasal verbs – a verb plus a preposition that are combined together to form a new meaning, like your “walk on” or things like “see to” or “follow up.”

      Sounds like your class had a great discussion. There’s been a lot of debate about ending sentences with prepositions – based on what I have learned, this is a stylistic preference rather than a true grammar rule, but it’s very ingrained!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. I love discussing these types of things, as I’m sure you can tell. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do believe that was the term my professor used as well, “phrasal verbs.” I still don’t love ending sentences with prepositions, mostly because it still looks wrong, but it was very freeing to learn from that professor that it’s difficult to consider it a true rule dictacted by grammar.

        I love talking about this kind of stuff, too, and have very much enjoyed reading about it every day here on your blog!

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      2. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my posts. πŸ™‚ I found it very freeing, too, when I started learning the difference between actual rules and style preferences. It’s nice to know that most of the time we are doing just fine with our writing! πŸ™‚

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      3. Yes! Whenever someone asks me to edit something for them, I always like to differentiate between style / consistency edits and actually grammatical / typo edits. Even though I like the logic and rigidity of grammar, I also love the prescriptive, “it is what it is” approach of linguistics…so I try to straddle a line between the two.

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  3. “Onto” also has a particular definition in mathematics. The modern idea of what a function is is to say that it’s a rule which matches things that are in one set, called the “domain”, to things that are in another set, called the “range”. If the rule is such that every single thing inside the range is the match of at least one thing in the domain, then the function is called “onto”.

    This can be confusing for people learning the lingo, since whether a function is onto depends on the domain, and the rule, and the range, all together. For example, if the domain is “all the numbers from -1 to 1”, and the range is “all the numbers from -1 to 1”, then the function “match a number in the domain to its square in the range” (for example, 0 and 0, or 1/2 and 1/4, or -1 and 1) is not onto, because there’s nothing that gets matched to -1, for an example, or to -1/2 or so. But if the domain is “all the numbers from -1 to 1”, and the range is “all the numbers from 0 to 1”, then the same rule about matching a number in the domain to its square in the range does make the function “onto”, because there’s nothing in the range that doesn’t get matched to at least once.

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    1. This is really great, Joseph! What you described brought up memories of learning domains and ranges in school math class long ago, but I don’t recall learning onto. (I may have, but if so it’s been lost in the mists of time.) I find that math tends to use language in quite a different way from other contexts, and it’s fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing this explanation! πŸ™‚


      1. There are some mathematics books that avoid using “onto” — and for that matter “into”, which is when a function matches things in the domain to some but not all the things in the range — in favor of “surjective” (and “injective”). I admit a little preference for the shorter words. I feel like onto and into are a bit more suggestive about what the difference in their meaning is.


      2. I’m with you there. I’m all for simple and informative words to describe things, especially things like math that many people find intimidating.


  4. Thanks so much for the explanation. That was a tricky one for me.
    While, as for occasionally, that’s easy, because it’s very similar to Italian πŸ™‚

    And hay, I recognised Tolkien’s poem from the first line. Just saying…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, a fellow Tolkien fan! Excellent! πŸ™‚

      And that’s great that occasionally is similar to Italian. At least there’s one word out there that won’t be challenging to me if I ever get around to learning Italian. πŸ˜‰


  5. I’ve travelled to many distant placed on airplanes, but the journeys that feel the longest to me are road trips. I drove with my family up to the New Liskeard area when I was younger, and I’ve been to New Hampshire twice now. That’s quite a journey from Hamilton!

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    1. Ah, a fellow Canadian! Welcome to my blog, Chris. πŸ™‚ I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting. New Hampshire is quite a trip. I’ve been on a lot of road trips, too, and they definitely felt long, especially when I was younger. πŸ™‚ I’ve been around some of Quebec and the eastern provinces by car. Once my family took a driving trip through California over several days, and that was definitely a long ride! (Well worthwhile, though.)


    1. Hi, Lori! Hope you are surviving A to Z without too much stress. I have vague memories of that movie, but they’ve been overridden of late by the Peter Jackson version of that world. I’m so happy you enjoyed that last line. πŸ™‚

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  6. Wow, this was excellent! I hope you leave these posts up. They will be so helpful if you do leave them up. I noticed a word in this post that can mean two things and also sounds different. I used it in one of my recent poems, and worried that it might be misunderstood. The word is “winds”.

    I intended it to be pronounced like this:

    “When she winds her wrist watch it works better.”

    Not like this:

    “The winds of change are blowing again.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I will definitely be keeping these posts – in fact, I am thinking of doing more as a regular blog feature when A to Z is over. I’ve started a “Rogue Words Gallery” page on my blog where I’m collecting all of the post links together. So glad you like them!

      I’ve seen your poem on tiger lilies with the word “winds,” and I think it works very nicely!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If it were me, for “on to” I would just cut out “on”… which is what I guess most Americans would do… the example with the tree would be hard to understand if spoken. This one is definitely one of your trickier posts this month!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But if we cut out ‘on,’ it would be too easy, Alex! πŸ˜‰ When I think about it, I would just say ‘walk to the tree’ as a basic statement. But if I wanted to imply effort over time, then I would say ‘walk on to the tree’ to show it as a continuing journey.

      I think I’d only do that in writing, though. πŸ™‚ You’re right about it being elaborate for speech!

      Liked by 1 person

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