Word Choice: To, Too or Two?
  • 3-minute read
  • 5th December 2016

Word Choice: To, Too or Two?

As if picking between a pair of similar-sounding words wasn’t bad enough, sometimes the English language will give you three terms that sound identical!

With “to,” “too” and “two,” for example, it’s very easy to get mixed up if you’re not careful. This is especially the case with “to” and “too,” which we regularly see confused in all types of writing.

But precision is vital in academic papers, so make sure you use each word correctly.

To (Preposition/Infinitives)

Probably the most common of these terms is “to,” which can be used either as a preposition or in combination with infinitive verbs. As a preposition, “to” has several meanings, including (among others) indicating direction or duration, identifying a recipient, or making comparisons:

Direction: I am going to the store to buy a hat.

Duration: The hat shop is open from 9am to 5pm.

Identity of recipient: Give the hat to me.

Comparison: I prefer Hats & Co. to Hats’R’Us.

The key factor here is that “to” always precedes a noun when used as a preposition.

When used to mark an infinitive, on the other hand, “to” is always followed by a verb. This is typically either to express a purpose or to give an opinion:

Purpose: I’m wearing a hat to hide my bald spot.

Opinion: If you’re self-conscious about balding, it’s a good idea to wear a hat.

Or a wig. Either's good.
Or a wig. Either’s good.

Too (As Well/Excessively)

“Too” is an adverb that usually means either “as well” or “excessively.” In the former case, it works as a synonym for “also.” When this sense of “too” is used, it’s often set apart from the rest of the sentence with commas (or preceded by a comma at the end of a sentence):

Mid-sentence: I, too, am going bald.

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End of sentence: I’m going bald, too!

When used to mean “excessively,” “too” indicates that something is extreme or beyond desirable limits, such as in the following:

I’ve lost too much hair to pretend that I’m not going bald.

The sun is too hot for me to go out without a hat!

It’s worth noting that this use of “too” never needs to be set apart with commas.

Two (A Number)

The “w” in “two” makes it easier to remember what this word means. In case you’re not sure, though, “two” is the number between one and three, otherwise represented by the numeral “2”:

It has been two years since I went completely bald.

You think you have problems? Try being a bald cat!
You think you have problems? Try being a naked cat!

Generally, it’s better to write out “two” in full rather than use the numeral in academic writing.

To, Too or Two?

Although these terms are similar, it’s easy to remember which one to use as long as you keep the following guidelines in mind:

To (preposition) = Comes before a noun or an infinitive verb

Too (adverb) = Can be replaced by “also” or “excessively”

Two (number) = Means the same as the numeral “2”

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