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A headline from a BBC News app on my mobile reads:

Russia 'fired rockets into Ukraine'

I could not find this on the BBC website, but it shows on my cellphone.

Screenshot for educating purpose only

Why into? You fire at someone/something. Maybe into refers to somewhere inside Ukraine but it looks a poor use of the preposition.

Correct me, please.

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Could you provide a reference to that piece of news? –  Dmitry Fucintv Jul 25 at 7:13
    
@DmitryFucintv I'm afraid, it's on my cellphone but not showing on the internet. Do they have different words for the mobile app? Still, I'm trying to find it out and will paste it here. However, it does contain the quotes. Editing the question. –  Maulik V Jul 25 at 7:17
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Here's one source: bbc.com/news/world-europe-28476153 Ukrainian sources have been saying the same for many days now, and it seems very plausible, in line with the general development of Putin's aggression. –  CopperKettle Jul 25 at 7:43
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@DmitryFucintv As it's about the use of English language, it should be irrelevant whether the news are accurate or not. Let's just not turn this question into a debate about politics, as that's not the purpose of the comments. –  vsz Jul 25 at 17:12

7 Answers 7

up vote 48 down vote accepted

The "into" says something about the path the rocket took. "At" only says something about how they were aiming.

"in" would not be appropriate, since that would imply that Russia fired the rocket from Ukraine.

"at" would not be appropriate, because they weren't aiming at Ukraine: they were aiming at some more specific target within Ukraine.

To hit that target, the rocket must go into Ukraine. The article is emphasizing how Russia crossed the border with their rocket.

(Of course these accusations are at the moment not proven, but this is about English, not politics or news.)

enter image description here

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This is quite general usage of these prepositions and I knew them all. But choosing this for the figures that explain it thoroughly. Thanks. :) –  Maulik V Jul 26 at 5:52
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Excellent diagram. A nuclear weapon would be fired at Ukraine where as a smaller, conventional weapon would be fired in or, indeed, into... or out of come to think of it... –  Starkers Jul 26 at 14:46
    
@Starkers Even though you can say "shot a nuke at Ukraine" it is more likely that you would actually find "shot a nuke at Kiev" and "shot a nuke into Ukraine", the size of the armament normally does not matter within the UK English that the BBC uses. It is also good to note that Russias intentions were the third diagram, while the first digram was used. –  Sammaye Jul 26 at 17:05
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+1 for visuals. –  BobStein-VisiBone Jul 27 at 12:39
    
Did you create those images yourself? If so, which software did you use, and can I download a free version? :) Really great images, very effective, and your explanation too. Pictures + words. –  Mari-Lou A Sep 12 at 3:15

Firing a missile at something would mean that I am firing at a target.

Unless Russia is firing very powerful nuclear weapons, it would be strange to think that it is aiming at "Ukraine" as its target.

It would be hard to miss, but it would certainly not be a big feat either.

In this case, what is meant is that Russia fired missiles at targets that are somewhere inside Ukraine. The wording is chosen to emphasize the fact that Russia did not move into Ukraine to fire, but that they are firing from within Russia to a target within Ukraine.

Obviously, the actual targets are either unknown or deemed unimportant to be mentioned in the headline: the main message is not that some target was fired at, but that a country that denies all military involvement in this conflict is now said to have fired missiles that crossed the border of what is internationally still regarded as an autonomous country.

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Thanks for your tip, I've deleted my answer 'cause yours says it all. –  CopperKettle Jul 25 at 7:41
    
+1 for the fourth paragraph. We don't necessarily know what the targets are, but they were undoubtedly specific points WITHIN the Ukraine. Russia was firing AT the targets, and in doing so fired INTO Ukraine. –  Doktor J Jul 28 at 13:42
    
An analogy would be me throwing a ball AT you while you are in your yard and I am standing on the street. While I am throwing the ball AT you, the ball went INTO your yard to reach you. The author/editor may have chosen "into Ukraine" because they did not know what targets the missiles were being fired at, or perhaps just because "Ukraine" is a more readily identifiable region than whatever the specific targets were (thus making for a more interesting headline). –  Doktor J Jul 28 at 13:44

Not at all a poor use of a preposition. Perhaps it's somewhat idiomatic, but into is a commonly-used preposition when talking about rockets and missles, whether those are being fired into space, into the ocean, or into enemy territory.

Commercial and military satellites are frequently fired by rockets into orbit
Source: Peter P. Wegener, What Makes Airplanes Fly?: History, Science, and Applications of Aerodynamics, 1997

We build huge bridges and concrete dams and send mammoth rockets into space
Source: E.J. Hearn, Mechanics of Materials Volume 1, 1997

Von Braun recognized that shooting rockets into the heavens could arouse fear and religious anxiety
Source: James Gilbert, Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science, 1997

Four Turkish F-100 fighter planes buzzed concentrations of National Guardsmen and fired rockets into the sea
Source: Andrew Faulds, 1988

Lebanese terrorist groups lobbed rockets into Israel's northern settlements and tried to penetrate the border
Source: Ira Sharkansky, Policy Making in Israel: Routines for Simple Problems and Coping with the Complex, 1997

Against von Braun's fervent hope that this would not happen, German military forces launched more than thirteen hundred V-2s at targets in England, and more than sixteen hundred V-2s into Belgium and France
Source: Stuhlinger & Ordway, Wernher von Braun, Crusader for Space, 1994

The preposition at is common when specifying a particular target, but into is frequently used to indicate that a missile or rocket landed inside a particular region or country.

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What if I use shoot? Russia shot missiles at or on then? –  Maulik V Jul 25 at 13:43
    
@Maulik - Same thing; one can shoot missiles into Ukraine – or any other sovereign nation. I'm having trouble thinking of a verb where into wouldn't be a natural preposition to use. –  J.R. Jul 26 at 8:07

"Russia fired rockets at Ukraine"

The missiles went from Russia in the direction of Ukraine, but they did not necessarily get as far as Ukraine. People would read this to mean that they did not in fact reach Ukraine, since otherwise they would have used a different preposition to make it clear that the missile had reached the Ukraine, which makes a more shocking headline.

"Russia fired rockets in Ukraine"

Someone associated with Russia, perhaps Russian soldiers, while inside Ukraine's borders, fired a rocket.

"Russia fired rockets into Ukraine"

Missiles were fired from Russia, and the missile did end up inside Ukraine's borders.

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"Into" describes where the rocket went, while "at" would describe where it was intended to go.

Consider the statement: "the gunman fired into the car door", this tells us where the gunman's bullet/s went, but does not suggest whether the gunman intended the door as his target.

Now consider the statement: "the gunman fired at the car door", this tells us where the gunman aimed but it does not tell us whether he actually hit the door!

Whether a news story will use "into" or "at" may depend on style of the publication, the intention of the journalist/editor and the evidence & sources.

NB: I feel J.R.'s examples of the use of "into" with regard to "space" or "orbit" are different; Ukraine being a country has a place and can be fired "at", however space and orbit are not so much things but concepts, hence you can fire something "into" space but not "at" space.

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Frankly, if I heard "the gunman fired at the car door" I would think the gunman was standing at the car door when firing. Confer "the gunman discharged his weapon at the corner of Fifth St. and MLK Jr. Blvd." I wouldn't hear that a gunman was emptying his magazine at a patch of concrete, but rather that he was standing on a certain patch of concrete while firing. –  Marcel Turing Jul 27 at 23:45

You are quite right that logically you would fire at Ukraine since Russia aimed to attack Ukraine, however, being English myself I know that this is actually valid and correct English (to say "into").

It is more of a local quirk (I am currently studying Arabic where I have to compare quirks between my own language and theirs) within the English language; that when talking about vast areas/entities like this, i.e. regions/countries (Ukraine being a region and an entity), you are more likely to say "into", irrespective of what armament was used.

However if you were talking about something smaller and more specific, say, a plane then "at" should be used. Another example of specifics would be "firing at Ukrainian soldiers" which of course the quote you see in the title later refers to (I read the story earlier today).

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This seems fine in American 4th grade. However, ' and ' seem to imply that someone may have stated this phrase in other press. Are there any cited names listed in the rest of the article other than the reporter?

Being on that mobile os is that your cache and/or news results may be poisoned by another running app. I've seen this before on android.

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There is only one "and" and it is part of a single block quote from another source, this is why context in English is very important, however, it does state at the end of the picture that the state department was quoted as saying that –  Sammaye Jul 26 at 13:54

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