For many of us, any discussion of the difference between “to” and “too” brings back memories of irate English language teachers tearing their hair out in frustration. But however hard our teachers drummed these grammar essentials into our heads, confusing the two terms remains a common error.
While getting the grammar wrong on a social media post can be mildly embarrassing, the consequences could be far more serious if you were to fall into this trap in a job application. We’ve rounded up some of the key points you need to know in order to ensure your professional communications remain free from this kind of error.
What’s the difference between “to” and “too” in speech?
If you’re concerned about confusing “to” and “too,” you’ll probably be relieved to learn that no one will be able to tell if you mess up in a spoken conversation. As these words are homophones, they sound the same, even though they have different spellings. This might contribute to the overall confusion about them.
How to use “to"
Before you get your head around the proper usage of “to,” you’ll first need to know that the term is a preposition, which could be tricky, as this concept isn’t always taught in modern grammar lessons.
At its most basic level, a preposition is a joining word that demonstrates a link between one or more words, people, or objects. If you’re using the preposition for movement, “to” can also mean “until” or “toward” or suggest a direction or period of time.
In addition to its use of a preposition, “to” can form part of the infinitive form of a verb, which is the verb in its purest form, for example, “to kiss,” “to watch,” or “to lie.” It’s the form of the word first taught to those learning the English language.
Examples of correct usage
- I’m going to the restaurant tonight.
- Will you hand that pen to me please?
- I don’t want to marry her.
You may recall the common rule that you should never split an infinitive verb, hence the grammar sticklers who insist the crew of the starship Enterprise ought to have had a mission “to go boldly,” rather than “to boldly go.” You shouldn’t, however, worry too much about splitting your infinitives in speech as this practice is now acceptable in most circles.
How to use “too”
If taking a grammar quiz isn’t your idea of fun, the good news is that the situation is more straightforward when it comes to the term “too.”
In general, when we use the term “too,” we’re using it in place of terms such as “very” or “excessively.” In this context, the term is an adverb, which means it modifies or qualifies the adjective (describing word) that follows it.
The other most common usage of the word is to suggest agreement, in which “too” can be a substitute for the word “also.”
Examples of correct usages
- I’ve eaten too many cookies today.
- I hate you too.
Do you need a comma before or after “too”?
Many of us also have questions in relation to the word “too” and comma usage. Is a comma necessary? Should it come before or after the word? Do the rules change for more complex sentences? This confusion is perhaps unsurprising, as many editors tend to have differing views—and there isn’t a clear-cut grammar rule about commas here.
One school of thought when it comes to such grammar issues is that a comma may only be necessary if your goal is to provide emphasis. You may, for example, write “I’m sorry, too” (with a comma) in relation to a major life-changing regret, while “I’m sorry too” (without a comma) may be sufficient to make amends for a lovers’ tiff.
3 tips to remember the difference between “to” and “too”
You won’t need to consult a glossary of grammar in order to understand these rules and spot correct sentences, as there are some simple tricks to help you get it right.
1. Count the number of Os
If you’re using the word “to” to indicate an excess, it can help to count the number of times the letter O appears in the word. In this case, you’re probably looking to stress there is more of something so you’ll need to remember to add one more O.
2. Ensure the Os agree
If you’d like to avoid one of the most common writing issues, this counting technique can also be effective if you’re using the term “too” to suggest agreement. Again, the correct usage of the term contains two Os. Remind yourself it takes two parties to come to an agreement, and therefore you need two letter Os.
3. Consider word replacement
The term “too” is frequently a replacement for language such as “extremely,” “very” or “excessively.” If you’re uncertain whether you’re using the correct term, you could try substituting the word “too” for one of these alternatives.
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Katy Ward has been an editor and writer for more than a decade. Having written for both national newspapers and independent media outlets from her home in the north of England, she specialises in finance, tech, mental health, and the arts. As well as penning short stories in her spare time, she can be found on Twitter at @KatyWardHull