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When should 'into', 'in' and 'inside' be used? What are the differences between the three?

For example, what are the differences between the following statements? Are any of them incorrect?

  • The frog jumped into the well.
  • The frog jumped in the well.
  • The frog jumped inside the well.
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4 Answers 4

In ordinary speech, in may mean either into (expressing a goal) or inside (expressing a location) with verbs expressing motion. Context will usually make the meaning clear:

The frog hopped frantically away and jumped in the well.
The frog jumped in the well but could not escape.

But in formal discourse, especially if there is any possibility of ambiguity, you should use the narrower term, into or inside.

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"The frog jumped in the well" is ambiguous. You could be saying that the frog was outside the well, and jumped in; or you could be saying that the frog was already in the well and was jumping around (unable to jump out and escape). Therefore, "into" would be preferred (as unambiguous).

"Inside" suffers from the same ambiguity as "in". More context in the surrounding sentences could resolve it, but as a standalone sentence, it's ambiguous.

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'In', 'inside', and 'into' all have similar meanings with subtle differences.

To start, 'in' and 'into' are both prepositions. This means that they are used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, location, or time, or to introduce an object

'Inside' on the other hand is itself a noun, in this case, a specific location.


Lets look at the three example statements and break down their possible meanings.

The frog jumped in the well.

This statement is somewhat ambiguous as to the intended meaning. Context might supply necessary details to determine the meaning but without any, the reader would be unsure of the intended meaning. The statement could mean that the frog was outside the well and then jumped into the well. It could also mean that the frog was in the well, and jumped (remaining in the well).

The frog jumped into the well.

This statement's meaning is clear: the frog was outside the well, jumped, and landed within the well. From the previous example, if this was the intended meaning and there is no other context available, the writer/speaker should have used this statement instead.

The frog jumped inside the well.

This statement is somewhat ambiguous. Typically, one would read this statement to mean that the frog is inside the well, it jumped, but didn't leave the well. That said, the statement is sometimes used to imply that the frog jumped into the well; however, this formulation is improper. You may see it used, but you should avoid doing it yourself.

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Broadly, in has a location or position whereas into has motion. Nevertheless, exceptions do exist.

Note that into is also an idiom meaning interested in (9). In addition, it's a slang - if you are into somebody/thing, you owe somebody money or be owed money by somebody. Here, in won't work.

Edit after the question is edited: inside would generally refer to the inner part/interior or inner surface/side of something. With jump, I think it can be used when the place is a kind of closed premises (for example a room, an elevator or a car). In this context, using that in frog's case won't be preferred. I got an example wherein someone jumps inside something.

...all the children around south of Iraq, they are all hungry, and very happy and they jumped inside the car and they want to take all aid, the cartons, the food, they want to collect it as soon as possible.

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You've only touched on a small sampling of many idiomatic usages. Lest anyone think that's the end of it, I'll offer a few more. "In" can be used to say that something is current or hip or chic: Short skirts will be in this year. "In" can also be used to express time: The college accepts new students in the fall. "In" can also be used as a noun indicating someone has a connection: I have an in at IBM. "Into" can be used to indicate transformation: My daughter has turned into a young lady. "In" and "into" are not interchangeable in any of these contexts. –  J.R. Mar 3 at 21:25
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