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 the facts 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.
You reminded me that whenever I have to think between too or to, I remember too has too many o’s.
It’s been such a habit for so long I didn’t realize it was there, but you teased it out.
Whenever I write these posts, I discover my own memory tricks and some of them are pretty off-the-wall. I’m not sure they’d make sense to everybody, but this was a basic one, thank goodness.
“If it’s not too much, use ‘to’.”
That’s how I remember it.
Hey, that’s a good one! I like that.
Thanks Melissa. That has bugged me forever. I remember learning it but I forget so easily. Thanks for posting this.
You’re welcome, Tracy. These homophones can be tricky sometimes!
I’ve never had this problem. I believe it’s because I didn’t grow up speaking English and picked up English mostly through reading and writing rather than listening and speaking. I’ve never thought about what part of speech “too” is though. I can see that “too” is an adverb in “That is too bad” but not so much in “I like that too”.
I think when you learn a language through reading and writing, spelling comes much easier because everything is visual, so you tend to visualize the words rather than hear them. I know, for example, that I always struggled with understanding spoken French because the bulk of my learning was in written form.
You did a great job of explaining this, Melissa! Sometimes when I’m tired, I mix them up but I know the difference–that’s what’s aggravating! LOL
Thanks, Michele. I have a lot of fun with these grammar posts!
Man…I’m so behind. I’m still working on “which” and “that.” Actually I don’t have a problem knowing which “two, too, or to” is correct; just sometimes my typing fingers go on autopilot and type the most recently used version.
Hi Deb! I know what you mean about your fingers going on autopilot. Happens to me all the time.
I remember “to” because I’m going somewhere – If I point to where I am going, I only use one finger, so I just put one “o”.
Ah, good memory device! I’ll have to remember that one 😉
I love your blog. 🙂 I have to confess though, I was a bit taken back by this post on two, too, or to.
Barring a language processing disorder, like dyslexia maybe, I can’t imagine that any writer over the age of 10 would EVER have trouble using these words correctly????
Is this really a serious problem for writers? If it is, I’m flabbergasted.
Well, we’re all different, and each of us faces our own unique struggles. Someone who is a master storyteller may struggle with grammar and spelling. I’ve seen this numerous times and what’s disappointing is that because of their weaknesses with the mechanics of writing, these individuals often turn away from it – despite the talent they possess for stringing words together in compelling ways.
Also, these are mistakes that many writers make as a result of typos (note that spell check doesn’t catch homophones). Writing requires a vast skill set. My goal is to be supportive and understanding whatever a person’s struggle might be.
A brief tour around the blogosophere and other online writing forums will show that many decent writers have a hard time remembering homophones (or have a hard time catching them or proofreading for them). I don’t think it’s appropriate or fair to assume that writers who struggle with mechanics have any kind of disorder, and even if they do, there’s nothing wrong with that. Additionally, let us not forget that there are many ESL writers who, even as adults, are still trying to master the English language and its many nuances.
I also want to add that here, at Writing Forward, we support, encourage, and welcome all writers at all skill levels. We do not judge and we do not make assumptions. As far as I’m concerned, the more people embrace writing, the better the world will be.
Thanks for your compliments about my blog.
Hey You’re welcome! (compliments about your blog :)).
Well, then maybe I have had limited experience with writers. I suppose I would presume (rightly or wrongly) that basic elemtents of speech & grammar would have been mastered by a certain time.
Certainly, the usages of the words, “too, to, & two” are discussed, ad nauseum I might add, in elementary language arts courses. As a former home school mommy, I found the repetition of basic grammar concepts year after year after year tedious. Which is why I was surprised that adults would have an issue with such basic ideas.
However, it appears that I am wrong. 🙂 My comments were not from a heart of condemnation or judgement however, merely surprise.
As someone who survived the public school system, I can tell you that grammar is not a focal point. In fact, if I remember correctly, the last time I had a decent grammar lesson was around fourth grade. After that, grammar is picked up through corrections made on essays and reports, assuming one paid attention to such corrections. The result is that many of my peers simply did not learn the subtle nuances of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Since I love studying language, I tend to pay close attention to grammar and over the years have taught myself many of the rules (it didn’t hurt that I majored in English and creative writing). I don’t think that’s true for most people, even if they are good at telling stories or putting words together in intriguing ways. Two, too, and to are probably not the most frequently misunderstood homophones, but I still see them mixed up often enough that I feel it’s an issue worth addressing.
Well then, maybe therein lies our differences in perspective.
I do know in the 60’s & 70’s when I was in grade school & high school, we *did* study grammar all the way through high school. (I remember Mrs. Sutton’s sentence diagramming all too well in 10th grade :D)
And then, with home schooling my children the past ten years, with the curriculum we used, there was a heavy focus on grammar throughout high school.
It appears I’ve lived in a bubble by assuming that most people would have had an adaquate, even an over exposure to it. 🙂
Re: “two, too, and to,” I usually have no problem with these, but I loved your examples and explanations.