To, Too, Two—What Train is This?
by Owen Fourie
You can have a train of thoughts. If those thoughts are expressed in words, you could also have a train of words. Normally, where there is a train of something, the individual parts that make up the train are related to each other.
In the to-too-two train, the individual words are related as homophones—they sound the same, but they differ in spelling and in meaning.
In much writing on the Internet, it is evident that the word to often takes the place that belongs to too. It is as though too is unknown to some. There doesn’t appear to be a problem with two.
Let’s get the usage right by considering each of these words and especially by distinguishing between to and too and getting four. Oops! Sorry! That should be two and two, which would give you four (if you are adding or multiplying). We’ll start with two:
This word is well known and not normally confused with to and too. It is mentioned here simply because all these words have the same sound.
Two is a noun that names the number after one and before three.
- It is used to name parts of time, money, measurement, and so forth: two o’clock, two dollars, two meters.
- It is used as a pronoun when we say, “She received two.”
- It is used as an adjective when we say, “He bought two apples.”
Here is a short account of a grandmother’s mercy mission in which we’ll see the various uses of to and too.
Eagerly, the children waited with their faces pressed to1 the windows. Their father had gone to1 the railway station to meet their grandmother whose train was due to2 arrive at two minutes to1 five.
They and their mother were not able to2 go to1 the station because they were all ill, and Granny was coming on a mercy mission.
From the window, they could see all the way to1 the end of the road where they would catch the first glimpse of the returning car. Soon enough, their excitement was raised to1 fever pitch as they recognized the car.
Later, after all the welcomes had been said, they sat down to1 a scrumptious meal made by their grandmother and fell to3.
One week passed. For the children, the time seemed to2 go too4 quickly. On the evening before her homebound journey, their grandmother told them that she, too5, had a similar experience to1 theirs.
She said, “When your mother was a little girl, she and your uncles became ill, and I contracted a fever too5. My mother came to2 nurse us back to health, so that your grandfather could attend to1 his work without worrying too4 much about his family.”
The children were sad to2 say good-bye to1 their grandmother, but they understood that she had too4 many things to2 do, and it was not possible for her to2 stay any longer. They hoped that her next visit would be at Christmas and that their grandfather would come too5.
Katie, the oldest girl, wondered if she would one day have to2 call her mother too5 to2 do for her children what her grandmother had just done for her and her siblings.
Each of the above uses of to and too has a superscript number to help you to follow the relevant notations below:
- to used as a preposition;
- to used to introduce the infinitive;
- to used adverbially here to describe their beginning to do something with enthusiasm;
- too used as an adverb referring to something happening, done, existing, or expected to a greater extent than desirable, permissible, or possible;
- too used adverbially to mean “as well” or “also”.
The frequent use of too in the above example is purely for the purpose of demonstrating its usage. In your writing, it would be regarded as excessive use of a particular word. It is better to find synonyms that fit the context, such as also, as well, in addition, moreover.
On the other hand, the frequent use of to is not a problem.
Now that you know more about these words, be sure to catch this train for correct usage and good grades… “too…to…two!”
Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with homophones or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.
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