One of our readers wrote in to ask about the homophones too and to:
I was trying to find something on how and when to use “to and too” I am having trouble in that area. I have trouble with that a lot and I tend to mess up with that. Can you help and do you already have something posted about that? I can’t find anything on it.
There’s actually a third homophone in this group, which sounds like too and to, although it’s not mixed up with them as often as they are mixed up with each other. That would be the word for the numeral 2, which is two.
Even though they have distinctly different meanings and spellings, these words can be confusing because they sound exactly alike.
The Difference Between Two, Too, and To
Luckily, each of these three homophones belongs to a different part of speech. As such, the way we use these words in sentences varies considerably, and that makes them a little easier to remember. The first step in learning to differentiate between two, too, and to is to understand their meanings.
Two is a noun; it’s also a numeral, a word that stands for the number 2.
Example: I have two dogs.
Too is an adverb, and it’s most commonly used to mean the following: also, an excessive extent, more than should be, or very.
You’re writing? I’m writing, too. (also)
There are too many homophones. (an excessive extent)
She bought too much food. (more than should be)
He was not too pleased with the results. (very)
To is a preposition that indicates a direction or motion, including physical distance, abstract distance, and distance in time.
I’m going to the store.
She works from nine to five.
We’re learning grammar — from sentence diagramming to homophones.
Mnemonic Devices for Homophones
When you have a hard time remembering homophones, or anything else for that matter, try developing a mnemonic device that will help you recall information quickly and easily. Sometimes you can use images; other times you can use words and sentences.
For example, to remember the names of the nine planets in order from the sun outward, I was taught the following sentence (this was back when there were nine planets): My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. This helped my classmates and me remember that the planetary order was: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
Pluto’s no longer a planet, so the elementary school teachers are going to have to tweak that sentence a bit, but it gives you an idea of how you can develop tricks for remembering things, and homophones are no exception. Images and word associations are also helpful for mnemonics.
How to Remember Homophones Two, Too, To
Remember Two with a Three
All three of these homophones have the letters t and o in them. Only one has the letter w. If you turn w on its side (counterclockwise), it looks a lot like a three (3), which is a number that comes right after number two (t30).
Remembering the Difference Between Too and To
Remembering the difference between too and to is a little more difficult than remembering that two is a number. But there’s a solution. One of these words has one o and the other has two o’s. That’s right, one word too has too many o’s. If you can remember the phrase “too many o’s,” you can also remember that if the too you’re using means “in excess” or “also” (all so many), then you’re good to go.
Do you have problems remembering the difference between two, too, and to? What about remembering the differences between other homophones? Leave a comment.