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The Phrasal Verb 'Look Into' Explained

Updated: Jan 27

A detailed explanation of how to use the phrasal verb 'look into' correctly like a native speaker.

Woman looking into a mirror

Hello and welcome everyone to this instalment of Phrasal Verbs Explained; a blog which aims to help you understand English phrasal verbs in a clear and coherent way, so that you can use them to improve your language level and sound more like a native speaker.


Today's post is all about 'to look into', which is a nice and easy phrasal verb as it only has a relatively small number of meanings. So, without further ado let's take a look at them....


KEY INFORMATION

Number of Meanings

​2

Literal Meaning

Yes

Idiomatic Meaning

Yes

​Separable

No

Past Forms

Looked into / Looked into

British or American

Both

For more explanation of the terms in the table above, click here

 

MEANING 1 : LITERAL

A cat on a street looking into a green bin

CEFR Language Level

B1 - Intermediate

Usage

Medium

Transitive or Intransitive?

​Intransitive (no direct object)

Separable

No

Potential synonyms

To look at, to look, to peer into, to stare into

As a starting point for this post, let's take a look at the basics and consider individual components of 'to look into'.


Firstly, we have the super common verb 'to look', in the sense of directing our eyes in a direction in order to see something.

Diagram showing the preposition into

Secondly, we have the prepositional particle 'into', which I know from my experience with English learners is not the easiest preposition to understand. All you need to remember is that is describes a movement to an end point which is inside something.



So, when we use 'to look into' literally, it means to look with our eyes towards the interior or inside of something. The speaker is normally (but not always) on the outside or exterior.


We can look into anything that has a physical inside space, such as a house, a hole or a box.


Examples in context....

A robin was sitting on a tree and looking into my house.
The curious cat looked into the box as he knew a mouse was hiding inside it.

In addition to anything with an inside space, we can also use 'to look into' with all nouns with which we use 'in'. This includes anything that does not have a physical interior space, but with which we still use 'in', such as light, dark and the future.

When I looked into her eyes, I knew she was telling the truth.
Looking into the future, the outlook for treatment of the disease is very good.

EXTRA INFORMATION TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE #1


It is common to combine 'to look into' with an additional preposition such as down, up or back, in order to add extra spatial information to what you are saying.


The additional particle needs to go between look and into, e.g. 'to look up into' or 'to look down into'.

A cat looking down into a pipe

Examples in context....

The cat is looking down into the drain.
She looked up into the night sky and was amazed by the amount of stars that she could see.
The scientist was looking down into the volcano.
I stood on my doorstep and looked back into my house one more time.

EXTRA INFORMATION TO SOUND LIKE A NATIVE #2


!!! Do not confuse 'look into' with 'look in' !!!


Due to their similarity and closeness in meaning it can be very easy to confuse these two phrasal verbs. In some situations this is not a problem because 'look in' can mean the same as 'look into' but 'look in' is used more commonly by native speakers to say that they are searching for something in a place or inside an interior space e.g. in a bag or a in a room.


Example in context....

LOOK IN: I can't find my keys! I've looked in my bag and in my room and they are definitely not there! INTENDED MEANING: I have searched for my keys in my bag and in my room and I am certain that they are not there.

In the above example, it would be incorrect to say "I've looked into my bag and my room" because this would only mean that you looked with your eyes and but did not search inside the room for the keys.

 

MEANING 2: To investigate (idiomatic)



CEFR Language Level

​B2 - Upper Intermediate

Usage

Common

Transitive or Intransitive?

Intransitive (no direct object)

​Separable

No

Potential Synonyms

To investigate

So now we come to the most common meaning of 'to look into', which means to investigate or to examine information about a particular situation or problem, in order to establish what caused it or what needs to be done to resolve it.


This is very common in business English when a problem has occurred and is also something that you may hear the police or other authority figures say when dealing with a problem.


Examples in context....

We promised the unhappy customer that we would look into the issue that they raised. INTENDED MEANING: We promised the customer that we would find out what caused the issue so that we can prevent it from happening again.
The school is looking into reports of bullying. INTENDED MEANING: The school has been informed that some students are bullying others and it is trying to establish if this is true and the details of the bullying.
The team of top scientists has been looking into the effects of climate change on biodiversity in the region and will publish their findings next week. INTENDED MEANING: The scientists have been working to understand what effects climate change has had on biodiversity in the region.

In terms of formality, I would say that 'look into' is less formal than 'investigate', however 'look into' is frequently used in business English for things such as establishing what has caused a particular issue to arise. 'Investigate' tends to be used by the police when or in large scale formal investigations, however it is normally possibly to use these words interchangeably without causing any problems.

 

Mixed British American Flag

SPEAK LIKE A NATIVE! TYPICAL EXAMPLES OF HOW TO 'LOOK INTO' IS USED BY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS


BUSINESS:

I don't have an answer right now. Can I look into it and come back to you?
The [noun] is being looked into.
The company is looking into the possibility of [verb + ing].......
I need you to urgently look into the matter and give me your feedback.

PERSONAL:

When I looked into his eyes, I knew he......
When I looked into the mirror*, I.....
When his mother looked into the room, she.....
The police are looking into the matter.
After looking into it, we decided.....

*With a mirror, it is also possible and common to say "look in a mirror".

 

EXERCISE 1


Re-write the sentences below using the phrasal verb 'to look into':

  1. Arthur the cat's eyes were fixed on the inside of the box.

  2. The noise was coming from the cellar below, but when they opened the door and peered down the stairs they could not see anything.

  3. The matter is currently being investigated by company management.

  4. I do not have an answer for you at present, so let me ask the question and find out and I will come back to you.

  5. We are not sure if we are going to France in the summer yet. My wife is making some enquiries about it, to see if it will be possible.

  6. The company are researching possible marketing strategies for next year.

 

EXERCISE 2: COMPLETE THE SENTENCES WITH POSSIBLE ANSWERS

  • Politicians are currently looking into __________________

  • The more I looked into it, the more __________________

  • Looking into the future, I want ________________

  • I am looking into the possibility of ______________________

  • When I looked into the car, I saw __________________



 

EXERCISE 1 ANSWERS (other variations may be possible)

  1. Arthur the cat was looking into the box.

  2. The noise was coming from the cellar below, but when they opened the door and looked into it they could not see anything.

  3. The matter is currently being looked into by company management.

  4. I do not have an answer for you at present but let me look into it and find out and I will come back to you.

  5. We are not sure if we are going to France in the summer yet. My wife is looking into it to see if it will be possible.

  6. The company are looking into possible marketing strategies for next year.

 

That is the end of today's post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I sincerely hope that it has helped you a little bit further on your English learning journey.


If you found the post useful, please go ahead and share it, so together we can help as many English learners as possible to understand and master these tricky phrasal verbs.


Also, please leave any comments, questions, suggestions or examples of 'look into' below. I really love reading them. See you next time!
















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