Commonly Confused Words: To vs. Too vs. Two

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What does each word mean?

To is a preposition. This means it shows the relation between the noun or pronoun and another part of the sentence. Some examples of pronouns are: at, after, between, on, through, and until. Click here to see the Oxford English Dictionary’s full definition of the word.

Here is to used in some example sentences (the italics highlight the noun or pronoun):

  • This afternoon I’m going to the hairdressers.
  • The baked beans are kept in the cupboard to the left of the fridge.
  • To her surprise, the film left her close to tears.
  • My uncle, who is married to my aunt, is not a blood relative.

The word too is used to express that either something is happening to a degree which exceeds normal or desired limits, or that it is happening in addition to something else.

Here is too used in some example sentences: -

  • He was driving too fast, far over the speed limit.
  • Bananas are my favourite fruit too.

Two refers to the number, i.e. 2.

Here is two used in some example sentences:

  • The sum of one and one is two.
  • My son is two years old.

Where does each word come from?

  • In Old English, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, to meant ‘in the direction of, for the purpose of, furthermore’ and originated from the West Germanic ‘to’.
  • Too, pronounced with a stressed ‘o’, was a variant of the Old English ‘to’ and meant ‘in addition, in excess’. The first recorded use of its –oo spelling is from 1590.
  • Two comes from the Old English ‘twa’, which was the feminine and neuter form of the word ‘twegan’ (meaning two). ‘Twegan’, in turn, comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘twai’.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

The best way to figure out which word you need to use in your sentence is by using a process of elimination.

First ask yourself: does the word in my sentence need to be a number? If the answer is yes, than you know you need to use two. If you need a way of remembering that the word with a ‘w’ is the one that refers to the number, try imagining the ‘w’ turned onto its left – it looks a little like a ‘3’ which is also a number.

If you don’t need a number, you then need to figure out if you need to use to or too. One trick to remember that the word too expresses that something is in excess of the normal, or that something exists in addition to something else, is by remembering the following sentences:

“The word ‘too’ has too many Os.” – i.e. the word exceeds the normal amount of Os.

“The word ‘moon’ has two Os too.” – You can replace the word ‘moon’ with any word that has two Os, whatever makes the sentence easiest for you to remember.

If your word isn’t a number, or isn’t expressing that something isn’t exceeding the normal or in addition to something else, you then know you need to use to.

Avani Shah

04 Feb 2014
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