While to and too look and sound similar, they are separate words with different uses in English grammar. To is a preposition used to connect nouns, adjectives, and verbs within the same clause. Too is an adverb we used to indicate excess in the same way as “also,” “additionally,” or “as well.”
What is the difference between to and too?
To and too are some of the most common words used in the English language, but they are also two of the most confused. Both terms are prepositions, which are the little words used in front of nouns and pronouns to connect subjects in a clause.
We use to as a preposition or an infinitive particle for nearly every type of sentence imaginable, such as describing an action, one’s direction, comparing sentence subjects, or telling a story in the past and future tense. But unlike the word to, we have several synonyms we can use in place too.
Too is an adverb used to express something in excess. We use it similarly to other adverbs, such as “for,” “very,” and “also,” or phrases like “as well.” Sometimes we hear the phrase “too much” to indicate “no more,” which is consistent with how too indicates an amount that is over an acceptable limit. In this case, too can carry a negative connotation, which enables too to be distinct from to in everyday speech.
Why is to and too difficult to learn?
Like most commonly confused words, to and too are examples of homophones. In case you’re unfamiliar with the grammatical term, homophones are sets of words that are pronounced and spelled similarly, but have different meanings. Language mix-ups are common for homophones, but they also indicate learning curves that occur within English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms.
In 2014, the British Counsel’s Teaching English blog featured Adam Simpson, who explained the difficulties ESL students experience while learning to use English prepositions. According to Simpson, there is no logical way to understand which preposition is used with certain words, and since learning about prepositions cannot involve guesswork, students must learn whole expressions to use the correct word.
All languages have a to, whether it’s para for Spanish or chez for French. But what other languages expose about English grammar is how we use the same word, to, for several purposes, while other languages use different prepositions for specific sentence subjects. Simpson’s observations of his Turkish ESL student’s progress mirrors this concern and writes, “Turkish has one preposition serving the same purpose as ‘in,’ ‘on’ and ‘at’ in English, making it difficult for my learners to distinguish between their various uses.”
How to remember to vs. too
The confusion between to and too is easily remedied with practice and by memorizing the correct usage of too, especially since there are fewer instances where too is necessary. But in case you need a few grammar rules for the road, there is one common method used to remind ourselves of when to use to vs. too. The adverb too is used to indicate something additional or in an excessive amount, which can help grammar students remember how too uses two letter o’s while to only uses one.
Beware of confusing to vs. too vs. two
Additionally, the word two is easily confused with to and two, especially when they’re used in parts of speech, or when all three words occur in the same sentence. For example,
Do you think it’s too much to buy two gifts instead of one?
Unlike to and too, the word two is only used to represent an exact numerical amount. The letter w helps English readers to understand the difference right away, but to entry-level English speakers, they may misinterpret the sentence’s meaning while spoken aloud.
It’s critical not to make this mistake and learn the difference early on:
- Two is only used for numbers (e.g., 2, 22, 42, 2,000, etc.).
- To is used for connecting motion to sentence objects and subjects.
Too is used for expressing something additional or an amount in excess.
Additionally, again, also, as well, besides, either, further, furthermore, likewise, to boot, on top of, then, and what’s more.
Let’s take a look at specific examples for informally using too in place of the adverb “very:”
He’s not too excited about the party tonight.
Wyatt isn’t too bad at singing.
Achingly, awfully, badly, especially, exceedingly, extremely, entirely, fully, immensely, incredibly, profoundly, really, seriously, severely, supremely, thoroughly, vastly, utterly, wholly, wildly.
Barely, hardly, little, minimally, meagerly, negligibly, nominally, slightly, scantly, somewhat.
While describing a quantity of excess, we use too in the following examples:
Your approach to dating is too much.
My lunch is too spicy.
There are too many books for this shelf.
The stakes are too high.
As we can see from the examples above, too is used to express a disapproving amount of something in excess, whether it’s an approach, spice, books, or risk.
Abnormally, astronomically, considerably, excessively, exorbitantly, inordinately, intolerably, obscenely, overly, unacceptably, unduly.
Barely, deficiently, hardly, just, inadequately, insufficiently.
On a different note, we also use too in place of “so” for accusatory statements. If you’ve ever heard children arguing, you’re probably familiar with the following example:
“I didn’t steal her toy.” “You did too!”
What does to mean?
To is a preposition we use in sentences to indicate several different actions, involving movement, direction, spatial position, relativity, and the comparison or connection between subjects. For example,
Langston Hughes lived from 1902 to 1967.
I walked to work this morning.
The dictionary is to the left of the lamp.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Ahead of, afore, before, ere, fore, of, previous to, and prior to.
After and following.
As an infinitive particle, to is used before a verb to indicate how the sentence action is non-finite since the particle is not bound to a tense form or subject. We use infinitives more often than we’re aware of, especially when we’re describing an action in the present or future tense. For example,
I’m going to read.
Let’s go to sleep.
To also exists as an adverb to indicate direction or describe a degree of awareness, application, or proximity. For example,
The children ran to and fro through the schoolyard.
Our patient came to after receiving treatment.
The car trunk slammed to.
She saw them close to.
Grammar guide for using to in a sentence
How to use to as a preposition
There are several different ways we use to as a preposition in the English language, such as expressing motion toward a location, connection, comparison, or a reference. In this sense, we use to in place of words like “toward” or “until.” We can break down each of these categories more through the following examples:
Motion toward a location
Example: Emily to walking to school.
Adam is driving to a bar mitzvah.
He’s going to the breakroom.
A location relative to another
Example: My house is to the right of the post office.
A location occurring at or after an end-point
Example: The company stayed open from 1995 to 2018.
The store is open from 9 a.m. to around 7 p.m.
Near or at a specific state of being
Example: The mouse laughed himself to death.
We watched his rise to fame.
The result of action
Example: The house burned to ash.
An expression of reaction to another’s action
Example: …to Ms. Trunchbull’s disgust, Bruce ate the entire cake.
Identifying a recipient of a verb or adjective
Example: Don’t speak to me that way.
Bring the cookies to mom.
Expressing the relationship between two people or subjects
Example: My brother is married to my nephew’s mom.
Avagadro’s Number is 6.022 to the 23rd power.
There are several steps to take along the way.
Describing how two items are physically attached
Example: I locked my bike to the gate.
Referencing specific concepts
Example: Open your books to page 35…
In regards to…
In reference to…
Introducing a comparison
Example: Biology is easy to chemistry.
How to use to as an infinitive particle
The infinitive particle is one of the most basic uses of language because it allows us to use verbs. Similarly to French être, the English Language uses to in the infinitive particle in order “to be” in the infinitive form. In this case, we use to as though it is part of an infinitive verb, but it’s important to understand how to is not part of a verb.
Let’s take a look at several different ways we use to as an infinitive particle:
Example: I am going to eat lunch.
She’s going to sing.
Expressing a result
Example: I was able to paint.
We left her to be alone.
Describing or advising a favorable outcome
Example: I hope to earn an MFA next year.
How to learn the difference between to and too.
Expressing the purpose of a noun
Example: She needs a bed to sleep on.
They want something to dream about.
Describing how something is reportedly known
Example: Lady Gaga is known to be kind.
The French are said to be very poetic.
Dogs are thought to be loyal.
Assisting phrases with ordinal numbers or meanings
Example: We were the fifth group to finish.
Henry was the last dog to arrive.
Expression of future tense with the immediate future (i.e., about to)
Example: We are about to leave.
The event is about to start.
Describing an action after verb context is introduced
Example: I know I should talk more, but I don’t want to.
How to use to as an adverb
Indicating the general direction of moving toward
Example: The ghost wandered the halls to and fro.
Describing the event of achieving consciousness
Example: Father finally came to after his post-dinner nap.
To close or almost shut a window or door or indicate use of an object
Example: The storm winds slammed the door to.
Kerouac set to his pen and began his written journey.
Describing the application or intention toward an action
Example: We watched the soldiers stand to attention.
So, you think you’re a stickler for grammar? Test your to vs. too skills with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false: an infinitive particle is part of the verb it’s in front of.
- Choose the grammatically correct word(s) for: “I love you ________.”
- Two and too
- Which of the following phrases uses to, too, or two incorrectly?
- Too much of something is bad enough
- Tonight is the night when two become one
- The race is on too get out of the bottom
- Here’s a story from A to Z
- Which of the following sentences doesn’t us to as a preposition?
- The score is ten to six.
- Let’s drive to work.
- He slammed the door to.
- They are drawn to danger.
- Which of the following sentences doesn’t us to as an infinitive particle?
- I’d love to visit sometime.
- We are about to leave.
- I didn’t want to do this, but I have to.
- None of the above.
- Coffey, N. “List of French prepositions.” Javamex, 2017.
- Simpson, A. “How to help learners of English understand prepositions.” British Council, Aug. 24, 2014.
- “Infinitive.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2019.
- “To.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2019.
- “To.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2019.
- “Too.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2019.
- “Too.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2019.
- “Verbs with to-infinitives.” British Council, 2019.
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