Sometimes the littlest problems seem the most annoying.
Like when you have an itch you can’t scratch.
Or when you accidentally drop a pen behind your bed, and you just… can’t… reach it.
Or when you use “to” when you should’ve used “too.”
At which time, someone you’ve been arguing with on the internet says, “LOL, you can’t even spell!”
And they’re actually making an interesting point.
Because if you confuse the word “to” with the word “too,” it really is just a spelling mistake.
You could even say it’s a typing mistake.
Either way, confusing “to” and “too” isn’t a big deal.
People will probably still know what you mean.
But it’s also easy enough to learn the difference between them.
So let’s do that right now!
Resources for Mastering the Difference Between “To” and “Too”
Below, we’ll look at an explanation of the differences between “to” and “too.” But first, here are a few resources to help you practice these important little English words.
- To, too or two exercise at englisch-hilfen.de. Telling the difference between “to” and “too” can be tough. Luckily, telling the difference between either of these words and the word “two” is much, much easier. “Two” is just the way you write out the following number: 2. Still, it can be useful to practice all three of these words together, and this exercise helps you do that.
- FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. You’ll have access to all kinds of entertaining content, as well as helpful interactive captions that let you click on any word (like “to” or “too”) to find out more about it. You can then see the same word used in additional videos. Add words to customized vocabulary lists and flashcard sets, and test your mastery of them with fun quizzes.
- Song lyrics. The nice thing about learning how to use “to” and “too” is that they’re both really common words. This means that you’ll hear them in songs all the time. In this post, we’ll look at some especially good songs for learning “to” and “too,” but you can find them just about anywhere. This list of songs with prepositions (including “to”) is a great place to start. If your favorite song doesn’t have one of these words in it, you can probably still think of one that does! When you listen to a song, you won’t be able to see the words “to” and “too” written out, of course. Think about how a word that sounds like “to” or “too” in a song is being used, and then try to determine which one it is.
What’s the Difference Between To and Too? A Too-simple Guide to Mastering These Important English Words
Okay, enough already! Let’s see what the difference between “to” and “too” is all about.
Uses of “To”
“To” as a preposition
“To” is a preposition, which shows a relationship between words. Let’s look at some examples of how it can be used.
To show movement towards something.
I’m going to the restaurant right now.
She’s driving to the park this afternoon.
Go to the FluentU website.
To show ranges of time or amounts.
The ride will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The judges found 40 to 50 percent of the cakes delicious.
There are a lot of little differences in how “to” is used, but usually, its usage has to do with movement or space between two things.
As part of a phrasal verb.
Sometimes “to” is used along with a verb in a way that makes “to” part of the verb itself. This is called a phrasal verb.
Phrasal verbs can be idiomatic expressions that have their own special, fixed meaning. Here’s an example:
I’m sorry that I forgot about our plans. I’ll make it up to you.
“To make it up to someone” is a phrasal verb that means to do something good to account for (balance out) something bad that you did. But even though this expression itself is idiomatic, the word “to” still carries some of the same meaning as in the sections above. If I say, “I’ll make it up to you,” the word “to” shows a kind of movement or gesture between I and you.
Here’s another example:
Sorry, this is a bad time! Can I get back to you?
You might say this to someone while talking on the phone. Here, again, you can see there’s a kind of movement or intended movement when I say that I will get back to you. “Getting back” is something that I will do in your direction.
Since the preposition “to” is so common, you’ll find many more usages that are slightly different than the ones above. But if you understand the general meaning of the word “to,” you’ll recognize it when you see and hear it being used in different contexts.
“To” as part of an infinitive
Look at the bolded sections above. When I used the phrase “to show” in “To show movement towards something” and “To show ranges of time or amounts,” I used an infinitive.
An infinitive is the unconjugated, basic form of a verb. In English, infinitive verbs start with the preposition “to” and look like “to show” above.
Besides being what verbs look like before they’re conjugated, infinitives can be used in sentences. Infinitive verbs are often used after conjugated verbs.
I want to show you something.
Here, the verb “want” is conjugated for the first person singular, or “I.” But I wouldn’t want to use (there it is again) two conjugated verbs in a row! Instead, I follow “want” with the infinitive “to show” in order to express that showing you something is what I want.
There are a lot of examples of the word “to” in Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” It’s a song that expresses a lot of ideas about movement and direction and also makes use of infinitives:
I want a ticket to anywhere. (movement towards a place)
Managed to save just a little bit of money. (infinitive following a conjugated verb)
We won’t have to drive too far.
This last example uses the expression “to have to [do something],” which communicates an action that is required or needs to happen. You can see that it also contains a usage of “too,” which we’ll look at next.
Uses of “Too”
Luckily, it’s way easier to recognize “too” than “to.” “Too” doesn’t have nearly as many meanings.
“Too” meaning “also”
One of the most common meanings of “too” is “also” or “additionally.”
Here are some examples:
I want to show you my new tattoo too.
Are they coming too?
She’s wearing her red T-shirt too.
This usage of “too” is super easy to spot. The word “also” could be used in any of the above sentences. For example, you could say, “Are they also coming?”
But the nice thing about “too” is that it usually falls at the end of sentences, making it easier to use and notice.
“Too” as in “too much”
Do your friends think you’re too loud? When you’re at parties, do you talk too much? Especially when you drink too much? Has anyone ever told you that you, yourself, are just too much?
An easy way to remember this usage of “too” is that it always sort of means that something is “too much.” If my car is “too fast,” it has too much speed. If the inside of my car is “too hot,” it has too much heat. If the Tracy Chapman song says we don’t have to drive “too far,” that means we don’t have to cover too much distance. Simple, right?
If your friend tells you you’re “too much,” this is just a way of saying that something about you is, well, a lot (it’s usually said in a joking manner). Usually, when someone says this, they’re pretending to be annoyed with you as a way of showing that they actually like you.
The song “Nobody” by Mitski has a good example of both usages of “too” together. At the beginning of the song, she sings:
Venus, planet of love
Was destroyed by global warming
Did its people want too much too?
Did its people want too much?
The second “too” in the third line has the meaning of “also” here. This song also contains several examples of “to,” making it perfect for practicing both words.
Understanding “To” and “Too” in Casual Speech
Okay, so now you know the main differences between “to” and “too.”
But here’s the thing: The word “to,” when people say it out loud, doesn’t always sound the same. It can be hard to recognize. And when it sounds like “too,” that can create its own problem.
Gonna (going to), wanna (want to), oughta (ought to): When “to” is drowned out
When verbs are combined with “to,” the “to” sometimes gets lost in pronunciation. Many English speakers don’t actually say “going to,” but “gonna,” and they don’t say “want to,” but “wanna.”
Part of what makes the two songs above good for learning is that both artists clearly separate “to” from other words. However, there are a lot of examples of singers not doing this, like in the classic Foreigner song “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Here, “want to” is spelled out as “want to” in the title, but really it sounds more like “wanna” in the song. The song also contains examples of “gotta” (got to) and “gonna” (going to).
As you get used to hearing phrases like “gonna,” you’ll learn to understand the verb and preposition together. You’ll learn to say “wanna” out loud while thinking “want to” in your head.
More “uh” than “ooh”: When “to” sounds like “tuh”
Sometimes people don’t say “to” with an “ooh” sound.
Instead, sometimes “want to” sounds less like “wanna” and more like “wan-tuh.” Other times, “to” is just pronounced a bit lazily, so it falls somewhere between “to” and “tuh,” and the vowel sound isn’t completely clear. You can hear this in Mitski’s pronunciation in “Nobody,” when she sings, “I just want to feel all right”:
In this example, you can hear the “to” in “want to,” but it sounds flatter than when she sings “want too” in “Did its people want too much.” See if you can hear the difference between the two:
In the second clip, you can hear that “too” is pronounced with a longer and clearer “ooh” sound. In the first clip, the “o” sound in “to” goes by faster and is less clearly shaped. This is pretty typical of how a lot of English speakers say these words, and knowing this could help you understand which one you’re hearing.
Just know that “to” is pronounced in a variety of slightly different ways, and some people will say it exactly the same as they say “too.”
However, this doesn’t usually happen the other way around. While it could occur with some accents, English speakers don’t change the pronunciation of “too” that much. It’s almost always said with a clear “ooh” vowel sound.
Using context clues when “to,” “too” and “two” all sound the same
Of course, if it’s a problem when people pronounce “to” more loosely and casually, it can also be a problem when they say it carefully. “To,” “too” and “two,” when pronounced “correctly,” all sound exactly the same. So, this is where you really need to pay attention to context.
To help with that, let’s look at a quick breakdown of what we learned earlier in the post:
- Two is the number 2. This is its only meaning.
- If too is used at the end of a sentence, it probably means “also.” If used before another word in a sentence, it’s probably expressing the idea of “too much.”
- If what you’re hearing isn’t one of the usages above, you’re probably hearing to, which can be used as a preposition or as part of an infinitive.
See? Wasn’t that just too simple?
I’m not complaining about it, though. Are you?
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Elisabeth Cook is a writer who spends too much time listening to Mitski and messing around on Twitter (@CooksChicken).
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