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.
How to use “to"
To understand the proper usage of “to,” it helps to know that the term is a preposition. At its most basic level, a preposition is a joining word that demonstrates a link between one or more words, people, or objects. It can also be used to show movement and time (rather similar to “until”).
Here are some examples:
- I went to school.
- I study English from 9 to 5.
- All roads lead to London.
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
- You are going to love that movie.
- I don’t want to marry her.
- I like to play Wordle.
There is a well-known rule that you should never split an infinitive verb.
Consider the famous phrase “to boldly go”. Here the infinitive verb is split by the adverb “boldly”. That's why grammar pedants take issue with the famous Star Trek quote:
“To boldly go where no one has gone before”
They think it should be:
“To go boldly where no one has gone before”.
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.
- It's too late to watch TV.
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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