The words “to” and “too” are what we call homophones. They are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. The difference between the two (with “two” being another homophone for to and too) is that “to” is mostly used as a preposition, while “too” means “very” or “to an excessive degree.”
Is It “To” or “Too”?
Homophones can be very tricky and are often the source of mistakes in writing, even if the words themselves are very simple. This article covers a commonly misused pair: “to” and “too.” This dynamic duo is among the most common mixups that make grammarians cringe.
When to Use “To”
Despite its small size, “to” has a plethora of meanings. Webster’s lists 30 definitions for both of its forms, so it’s not surprising to learn that “to” is one of the five most-used words in the English language.
“To” is used most frequently as a preposition; in these cases, it indicates (among other things):
- Movement: The river flows to the sea
- Direction: Fifty miles to the north
- Contact: Put the pedal to the metal
- Position: Parallel to the wall
- Result: Driven to the brink
- Connection: Key to my heart
- Extent: Soaked to the skin
The preposition “to” also indicates (or implies) an infinitive verb (that is, a verb in its unconjugated form):
- I’m going to watch a movie.
- It’s going to be a long night.
- He works more than he wants to (work).
- I don’t know if Tom’s playing, but Jen said she’s going to (play).
“To” can also be an adverb, but these uses tend to be more archaic and less common:
- “Run to and fro”: Go from one place to another
- “Come to”: Regain consciousness
- “The door slammed to”: Closed
When to Use “Too”
While “to” evolved from the very earliest Old Germanic forms of English, the adverb “too” appears to be a relative latecomer. The first known use dates from the 16th century, when it first took its current meaning of also, additional, excessive, beyond the limit, or “very.”
- Also: I did, too!
- Additionally: There will be dessert, too.
- Excessively: I ate too much.
- Beyond the limit: You’ve gone too far.
- Very: She’s not too hungry.
One “O” or Two?
So how do you know which one to use?
When in doubt, substitute one of the definitions for “too” and see if that works. If “also,” “additionally”, “excessively,” “beyond the limit,” or “very,” could be an acceptable replacement, you can go with “too.”
You can also try using this mnemonic device: since “too” is spelled with two o’s, you could say that it has “too many” o’s—a parallel to its meaning.
Here are more articles to help you brush up on your grammar:
- Know the Difference: Who or Whom?
- Affect vs. Effect: Word Usage Explained
- i.e. vs. e.g. Grammar Rules Explained