difference between to and too

What’s the Difference Between To and Too? A Simple Guide to Mastering These Important English Words

The words to and too are easily confused in English because they sound alike.

Whether in casual conversation or even in essays and online posts, this happens a lot.

Knowing the difference between to and too is important because they are both very common words in English. 

So let’s do that right now!

Contents

To vs. Too: What Is the Difference?

To sum it up: To is a preposition that can be used in a lot of different ways. It can even be part of phrasal verbs (“get back to you”) or infinitives (“to begin”). Too is an adverb with only two main meanings: either “also” (“me too!”) or “excessively” (“too spicy”).

Here’s a more detailed look at these differences: 

Uses of To

1. Preposition

To is a preposition that shows a relationship between words. Let’s look at some examples of how it can be used.

To show movement towards something.

Examples:

I’m going to the restaurant right now.

She’s driving to the park this afternoon.

Go to the school website.

To show ranges of time or amounts.

Examples:

The ride will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The judges thought that 40 to 50 percent of the cakes were delicious.

There are a lot of little differences in how to is used, but usually its meaning is related to movement or space between things. 

2. Part of a phrasal verb

Sometimes to is part of a phrasal verb, such as in “look up to” or “get back to.”

Phrasal verbs are verbs that are used together and have a different meaning than the same words by themselves. 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. Notice that 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 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. But if you understand the general meaning of the word to, you’ll recognize it even in different contexts.

3. Part of an infinitive

An infinitive is the unconjugated, base form of a verb. In English, infinitive verbs start with the preposition to followed by the main verb. Here are some examples:

  • To show
  • To dance
  • To study

Besides being the unconjugated form of a verb, infinitives can also be used in sentences. Infinitive verbs are often paired with conjugated verbs:

I want to show you something.

In this sentence, the first verb “want” is conjugated for the first person singular, or “I.” Next is the infinitive “to show,” which isn’t conjugated. This expresses 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 means 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.

1. 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.

2. Meaning “excessive” 

Do your friends think you’re too loud?

When you’re at parties, do you talk too much?

Especially when you drink too many cocktails?

Has anyone ever told you that you, yourself, are just 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 a lot of distance.

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 uses 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”. So the sentence means: Did its people want a lot also. This song also contains several examples of to, making it perfect for practicing both words.

To and Too in Casual Speech

Okay, so now that you know the main differences between to and too, it’s important to learn how to say them correctly.

In “correct” English, to is pronounced with an “ooh” sound:

However, this isn’t always followed when people say it out loud:

Gonna (going to), wanna (want to), oughta (ought to)

When verbs are combined with to, the to sometimes gets lost in pronunciation. In casual conversation, many English speakers don’t actually say “going to,” but “gonna,” and they don’t say “want to,” but “wanna.”

There are a lot of examples of this in songs, such as in “I Want to Know What Love Is“: 

Even though “want to” is in the title, it really 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 them right away. 

To pronounced as “tuh”

Another way the pronunciation of to changes is when it’s pronounced like “tuh,” such as “want to” sounding 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. The “o” sound in to goes by faster and is less clear. 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.

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. 

Try listening to 0:28 of the music video, when Mitski sings “Did its people want too much.” You’ll notice that too is pronounced with a longer and clearer “ooh” sound.

Resources for Mastering the Difference Between To and Too

Now that you know the differences between to and too, here are a few resources to help you practice these important little English words.

  • To, too or two exercise at englisch-hilfen.de. This is a straightforward online worksheet with answers that helps you practice when to use to or too. It also includes the word two so you can practice telling apart all three words.
  • FluentU’s English learning programThis gives you access to lots of authentic video 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. You can also add words to customized vocabulary lists and flashcard sets, and test your mastery of them with personalized quizzes.
  • Song lyrics. Since to and too are both really common words, you’ll hear them in songs all the time. For more song examples, you can check out this list of songs with prepositions (including to). When you listen to a song, try to notice words that sound like to or too, then practice figuring out which one it is.

Summary

To and too, when pronounced properly, sound exactly the same. Sometimes, they can also get mixed up with “two,” which is always a number. 

Here’s a final summary of their differences:

  • If too is used at the end of a sentence, it probably means “also.” If used before an adjective or adverb 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.
  • Two is the number 2. This is its only meaning.

 

Now all you have to do is practice!

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