Is this idiomatic to say,

There was a building a few miles into the town.

Somehow, this preposition "into" makes me uneasy. I think it sounds a little strange, but I'm no native. Is it grammatical and idiomatic to write/say this sentence?

  • I think a few miles away from town would work.
    – Schwale
    Jul 20, 2016 at 1:50
  • Do you mean a few miles inside the town (from outside the town going a few miles past the city limits)?
    – user3169
    Jul 20, 2016 at 1:52
  • @user3169 Yes. I think the better way of saying it (according to photon) is "There was a building a few miles into the city." Does this sound idiomatic to you? Jul 20, 2016 at 3:02

3 Answers 3


It's not incorrect, but it's not a common expression.

It would mean that the building is not near the edge of the town, but quite far inside the town limits. It would only make sense if the town itself is more than a few miles across, in which case we'd probably call it a city rather than a town.

One possible context where such an expression could be used would be

I was amazed how big L.A. is. I had to go a few miles into the city to get to my hotel.

  • 2
    ThePhoton, I disagree about this use of "into." It's not uncommon at all. I hear it frequently. "I'm going into town." "Turn right a few miles into town." The unit of measure doesn't seem germane here. "A few blocks into town" would be fine in a small settlement, with "into" used in the same way. The interesting thing here, to me, is the omission of the article. Why, and when, do we say "into town" instead of "into the town" in such instances? Jul 20, 2016 at 2:52
  • @P.E.Dant, I meant that logically (not grammatically) you can't go a few miles into a town that's only 3 blocks across.
    – The Photon
    Jul 20, 2016 at 2:54
  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/337948/… See, it was the original question I posted on ELU, hoping to clear up some of my confusion. But anyway, I am afraid your use of "a few miles..." is not what I am trying to find. I am trying to establish the use of "a few miles..." as pure adverb phrase used with "there inversion". However, according to you, I think this use should be fine : There was a building a few miles into the city. Does this sound idiomatic to you? Jul 20, 2016 at 3:00
  • It is the same because there's no special meaning to "a few miles into the town" except an uncertain distance, perhaps between 3 and 5 miles, when travelling from the outer edge of the town at least roughly towards its center. It means the same thing in your examples as it does in mine.
    – The Photon
    Jul 20, 2016 at 3:03
  • @quetchalcoatle, there is a possible issue that communities large enough to travel a few miles from one edge towards the center and not come out the other side again are not usually called towns. They're more often called cities.
    – The Photon
    Jul 20, 2016 at 3:04

This is a non-idiomatic use of into as defined in Merriam-Webster's first entry:

1  —used as a function word to indicate entry, introduction, insertion, superposition, or inclusion

In your example, the definite article is not required, and it will usually be omitted:

There was a building a few miles into the town.

  • We have no idea if the definite article is required or not in this sentence, since there is zero context. Jul 20, 2016 at 15:13
  • @AlanCarmack. Actually, I think the only way it works is if the definite article is omitted. Jul 20, 2016 at 16:01
  • There is an 'idiom; at play, but the idiom can be broken. We say I'm going to lie down in bed but we can say I'm going to lie down in the bed. We can also use 'the' in There was a building a few miles into the town when called for. We had never been in Xzygstown before. It had some amentities. The town had two hospitals.There was also an airport a few miles into the the town, and we sent people to check it out. Jul 20, 2016 at 18:57
  • @AlanCarmack There is an idiom in play here: "into town," "going to town," "around town," all omit the definite article. As far as I can determine, "town" is the only word describing a settlement or polity which we treat in this way. We don't say "going into city," for instance, or "around county." BYU corpus has the form without "the" as far more common: "into the town:" 222 "into town:" 1890. (Sorry, deleted original to edit it. Curse the 5 minute limit!) Jul 20, 2016 at 19:19

The question for me is the incompatibility of the idea of location-at and into.

We can walk a few yards into the jungle.

We can drive a few miles into the city.

You may have to travel a hundred miles into the desert to find the oasis.

But can we say "The oasis is located a hundred miles into the desert"?

I have no problem with "The oasis is encountered a hundred miles into the desert".

Is "a hundred miles into" understood to be a place or a distance-traveled?

  • It was the original question :english.stackexchange.com/questions/337948/… Jul 20, 2016 at 16:08
  • Not sure what you mean by "It". Jul 20, 2016 at 16:11
  • Um..the original question...? It seemed that adverbial use of prepositional phrases whose head is "into" becomes licensed only when some words that denote distance are in front of "into." For example, you should say "a few miles into the city, there was a building", not "into the city, there was a building " By adverbial use of "into", I'm not including the ones that is used right beside the verb, like "go into" or "walked into". Jul 20, 2016 at 16:20
  • Um, the original question was the original question? Jul 20, 2016 at 18:39
  • Into the valley of death rode the six hundred. Jul 20, 2016 at 18:42

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