DefinitionsIn addition to the uses shown below, onto is used in phrasal verbs such as 'hold onto' and 'latch onto'.
If something moves or is put onto an object or surface, it is then on that object or surface. ⇒ I took my bags inside, lowered myself onto the bed and switched on the TV. ⇒ Smear Vaseline on to your baby's skin to prevent soreness.
2. preposition You can sometimes use onto to mention the place or area that someone moves into. ⇒ The players emerged onto the field. ⇒ ...when the photographer sets off onto the moors. ⇒ Alex turned his car on to the Albert Quay and drove along until he found a parking place. 3. preposition You can use onto to introduce the place towards which a light or someone's look is directed. ⇒ ...the metal part of the door onto which the sun had been shining. ⇒ The colours rotated round on a disc and were reflected onto the wall behind. ⇒ ...the house with its leafy garden and its view on to Regent's Park. 4. preposition You can use onto to introduce a place that you would immediately come to after leaving another place that you have just mentioned, because they are next to each other. ⇒ ...windows opening onto carved black-wood balconies. ⇒ The door opened onto a lighted hallway. ⇒ ...a two-hundred-yard-wide strip of land that backs onto a large lake. 5. preposition
When you change the position of your body, you use onto to introduce the part your body which is now supporting you. ⇒ As he stepped backwards she fell onto her knees, then onto her face. ⇒ Puffing a little, Mabel shifted her weight onto her feet. ⇒ I willed my eyes to open and heaved myself over on to my back.
6. preposition When you get onto a bus, train, or plane, you enter it in order to travel somewhere. ⇒ As he got on to the plane, he asked me how I was feeling. ⇒ Who can fold up a pushchair, toddler and shopping and then get them all onto the bus? ⇒ 'I'll see you onto the train.'—'Thank you.' 7. preposition Onto is used after verbs such as 'hold', 'hang', and 'cling' to indicate what someone is holding firmly or where something is being held firmly. ⇒ The reflector is held onto the sides of the spacecraft with a frame. ⇒ She was conscious of a second man hanging on to the rail. ⇒ She had to cling onto the doorhandle until the pain passed. 8. preposition If people who are talking get onto a different subject, they begin talking about it. ⇒ Let's get on to more important matters. ⇒ So, if we could just move onto something else? 9. preposition You can sometimes use onto to indicate that something or someone becomes included as a part of a list or system. ⇒ The Macedonian question had failed to get on to the agenda. ⇒ The pill itself has changed a lot since it first came onto the market. ⇒ Twelve thousand workers will go onto a four-day week at their factory in Birmingham. 10. preposition If someone is onto something, they are about to discover something important. [informal] ⇒ He leaned across the table and whispered to me, 'I'm really onto something.'. ⇒ Archaeologists knew they were onto something big when they started digging. 11. preposition If someone is onto you, they have discovered that you are doing something illegal or wrong. [informal] ⇒ He did not want Pollard to become suspicious that he was now onto him. ⇒ I had told people what he had been doing, so now the police were onto him.
COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary. Copyright © Harper Collins Publishers