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Which to/too/two do you use when you are writing, "there are three ways to spell two/too/to in the English language?" My girlfriend has a BS in English and was unable to answer this so I was wondering if you guys had any idea.

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closed as too localized by Matt Эллен, kiamlaluno, simchona, Mahnax, RegDwigнt Jan 13 '12 at 12:13

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3  
Eh? All three, innit? –  Marthaª Feb 10 '11 at 1:53
    
Like that, (and that's the way it is). –  Orbling Feb 10 '11 at 1:56
    
@orbling so you just have to use all three? –  Kyle Feb 10 '11 at 1:57
    
@Kyle: There are four occurrences of the syllable /tuː/ in that sentence, the first one is in standard use and should be to - the remaining three are being quoted for the purpose of the sentence, so act as nouns I believe in that sense and thus are spelt in their own ways. –  Orbling Feb 10 '11 at 2:05
    
I wrote saying instead of writing I apologize.. updated my question. –  Kyle Feb 10 '11 at 2:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If I wrote "there are three ways to spell to", that would be wrong because there is only one way to spell to. Likewise, there is only one way to spell too and perhaps two ways to spell two (the other being 2).

So, the only way to write that sentence correctly would be to include all three, or write the transcription, [tu].

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5  
That makes four ways… –  Potatoswatter Feb 10 '11 at 4:04
2  
@Potatoswatter Vous think so? –  muntoo Feb 10 '11 at 4:55
    
@Potatoswatter: Just depends if the person considers 2 to be "spelling". –  Kosmonaut Feb 11 '11 at 21:45
    
Five ways, then: Phonetic /tu/ is certainly a spelling. Of course, there's really just one way to spell each word. –  Potatoswatter Feb 12 '11 at 6:19
    
@Potatoswatter: That is generally considered to be a phonetic transcription, held in contrast to spelling. –  Kosmonaut Feb 12 '11 at 14:07

To flesh out Kosmonaut's answer a little bit, it doesn't make sense to include all three spellings and say that there are three ways to spell those three spellings. Alternative ways to express what you mean include

The word "to" has two homophones: "two" and "too".

and

There are three words that sound like "to".

(If you have an agreed-upon pronunciation notation, like IPA, you could use that. Presumably that is what Kosmonaut's [tu] is.)

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protected by RegDwigнt Jan 13 '12 at 12:13

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