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Distinctions: ‘To,’ ‘Too’ and ‘Two’

Posted by CW64 on December 10, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on “to,” “too” and “two,” three words that are spelled in a similar fashion and are pronounced identically, but have different meanings.

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To

This term is a preposition (and adverb) that indicates motion or direction toward something or someone, as well as to show contact applied between two entities. (see here)

Preposition (and Adverb)

Examples:

Gina went to the store for more milk
Tom applied pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding.

In the first sense, the preposition “to” identifies Gina’s intended destination, as in the clause “from here to there,” whereas the second denotes the contact between Tom and a wound and the reason behind his action.

Another use of this word points out a limit in or a termination of a certain span of time, as in “the pep rally is scheduled to five-o-clock.”

Infinitives

The “to” form is also an incorporated feature of infinitive phrases. Infinitives are noninflected verbs. Look at the following examples:

Examples:

To love
To stir
To sing
To dance
To work

All of these are infinitives because they are general references to certain actions. They quite often follow conjugated verbs as in the sentence “Michael wanted to go to the circus this year.”

Too

This adverbial term is synonymous with “also” and “as well,” and refer to an inclusion. The form also infers a degree of excess or shortcoming. (See here)

Adverb

Examples:

Jason wound up going to the movies, too
“Too little, too late,” she told her ex-boyfriend and slammed down the receiver.

The first example is straightforward: Jason’s decided attendance adds to the group of those who are already going to the movies. The dismissive “too little” uttered by the upset woman in the second instance, however, alludes to her ex-boyfriend’s lacking as far as his efforts to save their defunct relationship. In short: the former is inclusive, the latter a case of degree.

Two

“Two” is both a noun and an adjective, depending on how it is used. This is indicative of the number and is quantitative in nature and use. (See here)

Noun and Adjective

Examples:

Two heads are better than one.
Two birds landed on the telephone wire.

The word “two” takes a verb in the first example, asserting that a pair of heads (i.e. brains) serves better than one. The subsequent “two” describes the birds on the wire in terms of quantity.

Food for Thought:

If a writer is having a conundrum and knows that neither “too” nor “two” fits, the solution is “to.” Both “too” and “two” have specific uses; the “to” form is a bit more varied. If in doubt, writers can and should use the process of elimination in this way.

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Quiz:

1) Choose the correct word to use: ‘to,’ ‘too,’ ‘two’

• Indicating quantity ________________________________
• Indicating direction ________________________________
• Indicating inclusion ________________________________

2) Which of these three words refers to an excess or lacking in amount? ___________

3) True or False:

• Danny went two see his dying grandmother at the hospital
• “I want too be there when she opens the present,” Cathy said excitedly.
• Jamie grew to a full 5’5 in height by the time she was 13.
• Marty had to go to summer camp last year.

4) Fill in the Blanks:

To, Too, Two

“______ be or not _______be; that is the question” is a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s plays. The significance of that thought has resonated throughout the world for some time and has become a dominant consideration in many forms of philosophy.

Why is this case? The purpose behind existence has both plagued and inspired humanity for centuries, even _________ the extent that many people have striven _________ find an answer ________ what is considered a riddle in the midst of life.

What does it mean ______ or not ________be?

Each person has a different interpretation based on individual life experiences. Therefore, the answer will vary from person ______ person; there is no single answer _______ that question. Then again, maybe there isn’t supposed ______ be. In fact, the chances are likely Shakespeare never intended for and solid or universal solution to the conundrum. That would be _______ difficult _______ achieve with something as complex and diverse as life. The idea of being alive, or existing, refers _________ many different schools of thought: physiological existence, intellectual enlightenment, emotional fulfillment and happiness, career and work success, recognition from other people . . . The possibilities are endless. Whatever idea of existence any one person conceives is, by default, a correct one. _________ many viable possibilities render mute any justifiable debate over the subject because everyone would win.

No ________ people are exactly alike, and, _______ that end, neither are any _______ lives. That serves as a key point _______the entire riddle of life and ______ the question.

“_______ be or not ________ be” is the primary question. If one thinks well enough, one will discover that just might be the answer as well. The riddle solves itself.

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