Copying Files On, To, or Onto

By Maeve Maddox

Preposition use is not easy to formulate. In this post I will focus on incorrect—or at least ambiguous—uses of on, to, and onto in the context of electronic file transfer. First, some definitions:

to: expressing motion directed toward and reaching a place.
Ex. I took the book to the library.
I copied the file to a jump drive.

on: expressing a position above and in contact with; at rest on the upper surface of.
Ex. She laid the book on the counter.
I saved a copy of my dissertation on a CD.

onto: indicating physical motion to a position on.
Ex. The clerk dropped the book onto a moving conveyor belt.
I copied a movie onto a DVD.

 
Here are examples of questionable preposition usage:

Incorrect: Embed the HD videos you create onto your personal or professional websites to help bolster your reputation.
Correct : Embed the HD videos you create in your personal or professional websites to help bolster your reputation.

The use of onto with embed appears to be very common in the context of transferring files from one medium to another, but this usage disregards the meaning of embed: “to fix firmly in a surrounding mass of some solid material.” For example, a fossil may be found embedded in a layer of rock. A YouTube video may be embedded in a web page, but not on one.

Incorrect: If you want to copy on the same volume, use the Finder File. 
Correct : If you want to copy to (or onto) the same volume, use the Finder File.

Movies are copied to tape or disk. Once copied, they are on the tape or the disk.

Incorrect: I am hoping to save a font from one computer onto my USB drive and transfer it to another computer.
Correct : I am hoping to save a font from one computer on my USB drive and transfer it to another computer.
Or: I am hoping to copy a font from one computer onto my USB drive and transfer it [from there] to another computer.

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