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When Not to Use the Word 'To'

Everyday Grammar: When Not to Use the Word 'To'
Everyday Grammar: When Not to Use the Word 'To'
When Not to Use the Word 'To'
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This is Everyday Grammar.

On many of our programs, we talk about the dos of the English language – how and when to use grammatical forms. But on today’s program, we will tell you about some don’ts – in this case, when not to use something: the word “to.”

The word “to” can act as a preposition, part of a phrasal verb, or part of an infinitive verb, depending on how it is used.

‘Go’ and place adverbs

Let’s begin by discussing when to avoid use of “to” after the verb “go.”

You have probably heard native English speakers say things like, “I’m going to work” or “I’m going to school.” But why don’t they say, “I’m going to home”?

English learners are generally taught to use “to” when talking about going to a place. Well, that applies most of the time. However, some words present exceptions.

The word “home” is one of them. Let me explain why.

“Home” seems like a clear noun, right? However, we often use it as an adverb. In fact, this is key to knowing which words do not come with the preposition “to.”

Listen to how this speaker uses “home” in a question:

Are you going home? I need a ride to 16th Street.

Here, “home” is an adverb, not a noun. Notice that the verb is “go.” After this verb and before some place adverbs, we do not use the preposition “to.”

Now, let’s talk about other adverbs that follow this “rule.”

The words “downstairs” and “upstairs” are place adverbs that describe levels inside a home or building. Listen to how this speaker uses one of them with the verb “go”:

Let’s go downstairs. I want to show you my art collection.

Make sense so far? Great!

Other place adverbs that follow this same rule include “there” and “somewhere.” A common mistake of English learners is to say something like, “I’m going to there.” People will still understand your meaning. But it’s good to know the right way, which the following two speakers use. Have a listen:

It’s my birthday! I want to go somewhere special.

How about the local vineyard? Renee is going there for her birthday next week.

There are a few more place adverbs that are not preceded by the preposition “to” when used with the verb “go.” They include “inside” “outside” “underground” “abroad” and “downtown.”

It’s also worth noting that this applies to a few verbs other than “go.” For example, with the verb “run,” I would say, “I have to run downtown” rather than “I have to run to downtown.”

Is it correct to say, "We arrived to the airport" or "We arrived at the airport"? Keep reading to find out!
Is it correct to say, "We arrived to the airport" or "We arrived at the airport"? Keep reading to find out!

The verb ‘arrive’

The verb “arrive” is another that never gets the preposition “to” after it. In other words, avoid saying something like, “We arrived to the airport at 5:00” or responding, “OK great. What time will you arrive to Washington, D.C.?”

Listen to these speakers correct those two examples:​

We arrived at the airport at 5:00.

OK great. What time will you arrive in Washington, D.C.?

Note however that the phrasal verb “get to” is much more common than “arrive.” So, you might hear native English speakers say this instead:

We got to the airport at 5:00.

OK great. What time will get to Washington, D.C.?

Even with the verb “get to,” we sometimes take out “to,” such as when using the place adverbs we have been discussing. In other words, saying, “I got downtown at noon” is right, while saying “I got to downtown at noon” is not.

The verbs ‘prevent’ and ‘stop’

The next verbs are “stop” and “prevent.” These verbs mean the same thing, but “stop” sounds more natural in everyday speaking and writing.

Avoid using “to” after these verbs. The usual sentence structure is to follow them with an object, then the preposition “from” and then a gerund. That’s a lot easier than it sounds! Here is proof:

The password prevents people from stealing your information.

The password stops people from stealing your information.

The object here is “people,” followed by the preposition “from” and the gerund “stealing.”

Causative verbs

And finally, we move to causative verbs.

You may remember earlier programs that discussed causatives such as “let” and “make.” There are more than 10 causative verbs in English. Most are followed by an infinitive verb. However, a few are only followed by the base form of verbs. “Let” and “make” are examples of this.

Listen to this speaker use “let” and pay attention for what verb comes after:

Our friend let us take some veggies from his garden.

She used the base form of the verb “take.” Notice that she did not say, “Our friend let us to take some veggies from his garden.”

What can you do?

So, what can you do with this information?

Well, first, remember that using “to” in the wrong places usually will not stop others from understanding you.

Next, avoid trying to memorize what you learned today. Instead, pay attention for the place adverbs and verbs wherever English is being used. Then, ask yourself if the word “to” is present.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

phrasal verb – n. a group of words that functions as a verb and is made up of a verb and a preposition, an adverb, or both

infinitive verb – n. the basic form of a verb with the word “to”

key – n. something that is necessary in order to do or achieve something

vineyard – n. a field where grapes are grown

precede – v. to happen, go or come before something

gerund – n. a noun ending in -ing

password – n. a secret series of numbers or letters that allows you to use a computer system

causative – adj. making something happen or exist : causing something