“To” vs. “Too”: What’s the Difference?
Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have distinct meanings. These types of terms can cause confusion for people learning the language and native speakers alike. Today I’ll dive into to and too—a classic example of a homophonic dilemma in the English language.
"To" is a multi-purpose preposition used to express a direction, a limit, a purpose or a result. It can also serve as the marker of the infinitive.
"Too" is an adverb meaning “in addition”, “extremely” or “excessively”.
Through seeing how they are used in common examples and idioms, you’ll be able to better understand each of these terms’ definitions. I’ll also add a few tricks along the way to help you recognize which word should be used in any kind of situation.
“To”: Definition and examples
The word “to” pops up so often in our language, it’s almost invisible. It is mostly used as a preposition, meaning that it relates a noun phrase to some other clause in the sentence. It’s a very frequent word with several meanings, some less common than others. The preposition to can be used to indicate:
Physical movement: Sally is going to the mall.
Direction: As you walk down this street, you will find the store to your right.
Contact or proximity: Jason applied ointment to his skin.
Purpose or intention: We are drinking to his victory.
Attachment, connection, response and belonging: Last night, we danced to the rhythm of the songs.
Extent or degree: He was beaten to death.
Similarity or proportion: Don’t compare me to my brother.
The application of an adjective or noun: Jason was pleasant to Sally.
When the verb that follows is an infinitive: Jason likes to run.
To is also commonly used in idioms, and memorizing idioms is a great way to remember when to use each word based on the context of a sentence:
It takes two to tango. (One person alone isn’t responsible for a problem.)
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. (You can’t force someone to make the right decision.)
“Too”: Definition and examples
Too is useful too, but it’s much more niche than its homophone. This word is an adverb with a few meanings:
1. In addition: Jason is coming to dinner and Sally is joining too.
2. To an excessive extent or degree. Usually with a negative connotation, “more than it should be”:
Sally was too sick to travel.
The couch we bought is too large for the living room.
Sally crashed into Jason while driving because she was too close behind him.
3. Extremely, very: I can’t eat the soup yet because it’s too hot.
Too adds life and emphasis to any sentence, but can easily be omitted in many cases. For instance, we can say “it’s too hot outside” or we could also simply say “it’s hot outside”. The sentence loses a bit of life, but carries pretty much the same idea.
Here are a few idioms containing the word too:
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. (You can’t have everything)
Not a moment too soon. (Almost too soon.)
Too much of a good thing. (One too many.)
How to remember the difference between “to” and “too”?
When speaking, you won’t really need to remember which is which, since they both sound the same. Easy-peasy. Things get more problematic when writing, and mixing to and too is all too tempting even for native English speakers or seasoned writers.
Below is a list of helpful tips that I hope will help you remember whether your word needs an extra little extra “o”:
To is a lot more versatile than too. Therefore, just by understanding the meaning of too well, you can easily figure out which word to use based on the process of elimination. (If it’s not too, then it must be to.)
The word too has an excessive amount of “o’s” and excessive also happens to be one of the meanings of the word.
Memorize this: Too can be replaced by in addition, extremely or as well. Every time you’re wondering which word to use, try replacing the word with one of these synonyms. If it works, then you should use too, and if it doesn’t, to is your answer.
Pick an idiom with each of the words and take the time to fully understand the meaning. Next time you’re writing something, you can easily recall your idiom and compare it to the context of the word you’re trying to use.
In a nutshell
To and too are homophones, meaning these words sound the same but are spelled differently and have separate meanings. When writing, it can be challenging to know when to use each word in the right context. To summarize everything mentioned in the article above, here are the key elements to ensure you keep your to’s and too’s straight:
Take a little practice quiz: “To” vs. “Too”
Here’s a quiz to practice everything you’ve learned. Did you obtain a perfect score after reading all the tips in this article? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!
Sally couldn’t eat her oatmeal because it was ______ hot. (to/too)
Sally drove Jason _____ the park. (to/too)
Jason woke up in a bad mood so he didn’t feel like talking _____ Sally in the morning. (to/too)
Right before Christmas, the mall gets way _____ crowded. (to/too)
I’d like _____ invite you ____the party. Your wife can come _____. (to/too, to/too, to/too)
Quiz answers: 1) too 2) to 3) to 4) too 5) to, to, too
Laura Moreno Saraga, ADI Content Writer at Wix
A fan of great food, fun adventures and tiny things. Laura was born in Bogota, Colombia, studied in the US and now lives in sunny Tel Aviv.