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I am looking at some usage issues of "change" sense of the verb "turn":

  1. Water could turn to/into ice.
  2. The magician turned the cat to/into a rabbit.

I looked up dictionaries and it seems that "turn" should be used with "into" to be safe and that "to" could be used with "turn" for poetic effect. What do native speakers think?

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Certain sentences using phrases like this -- (sometimes in the past tense) -- can be found in translations of some parts of the bible; for example in chapter 38 of Genesis. "This" translation http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0138.htm of Genesis 38 uses "turned in to" in verse 1 (note: "in to", [two words!] -- not "into") and it uses "turned unto" in verse 16. In fact, in verse 16 it also uses -- twice -- (the present tense, or the infinitive, or something, of) the verb "come in unto" ... which may be even more archaic than "turned unto", and it is probably a euphemism there ...since it [verse 16] involves statements addressed to (or spoken by) Tamar, and Tamar is mentioned in the previous verse (15) in a sentence that contains a noun translated as "harlot".

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Turn into a thing. Turn to a substance.

> When she looked back at the city, she turned into a pillar of salt.
> She turned to salt when she looked back at the city.
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As a native speaker of American English, I agree with the original poster's interpretations. "Turn into" usually means "transform into", as in the original poster's two examples. "Water could turn to ice" sounds good to me; this happens to be a very poetic example. "The magician turned the cat to a rabbit" does not sound as good to me as "The magician turned the cat into a rabbit", because it is possible that the magician might be turning the cat to face a rabbit.

"Turn to" can be a poetic phrase that means "turn into". It is commonly used to mean "orient toward" or "rotate toward", as in "The cheerleaders turned to the right." It is sometimes used to mean "choose a different option", as in "Frederick the Great turned to England for help."

"Turn in to" usually means "rotate toward", as when a driver "turns in to the driveway".

"Turn in" can mean "submit <something>", as in "The students turned in their homework." "Turn in" can also mean "go to bed", as in "I think I will turn in for the night."

  • So, both "water could turn to ice" and "the magician turned the cat to a rabbit" are likely poor English? – meatie Oct 1 '14 at 21:22
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    I agree that "I saw the water turn to ice" is more acceptable than "I saw the magician turn the cat to a rabbit". "The cat turned into a rabbit" is a transformation, but "the water turned to ice" is more of a change of state than a transformation into something different. "Winter turned to Spring" is another example where I think "turned to" as well as "turned into" would be OK. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 1 '14 at 21:38
  • 'Water turned to ice' is likely more acceptable because water is an inanimate object and cannot rotate itself, leaving only one sensible meaning. The magician, on the other hand, can easily rotate a cat, so that sentence is ambiguous. – Damien H Oct 1 '14 at 23:27

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