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In German "to" and "too" translate into the same word "zu". It would therefore be great if somebody could clarify when to use which.

E.g. Is it "to dazzle" or "too dazzle"? "to dazzling" or "too dazzling"?

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Are you looking for the actual grammatical rules, or for a mnemonic device? –  Jonathan Van Matre Dec 18 '11 at 16:56
    
The grammatical rules and a mnemonic device for the grammatical rules. Something easy to remember that tells me when to use "to" or "too" –  Fabian Dec 18 '11 at 16:59
    
This is, as I pointed out, a very tough question, and not a matter of "general knowledge" at all; it's very, very specific. –  John Lawler Dec 18 '11 at 17:59
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5 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Too is used either as an adverb (as in your example "too dazzling," where it modifies dazzling, an adjective.) or to mean "also". To, on the other hand, is used as a part of the infinitive construction or as a preposition. "To go to the store, ..." uses both forms.

Since you mentioned German, here are some examples in translation:

Too:

  • Er hat zu viel gegessen.
  • Ich möchte das auch.

In the first, zu modifies viel, and therefore translates to "too." In the second, auch can translate to "too."

To:

  • Es ist schwer zu sagen...
  • Wir gehen zur Bäckerei.

In the first, zu is part of the infinitive "zu sagen," and in the second it is used as a preposition.

And in some cases, of course, zu doesn't translate to any form of "to" (Ich gehe zum Fuß, for example.)

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+1 A good way to explain! –  Kris Dec 19 '11 at 9:28
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This is a tough one. Too and to are identical in sound (/tu/), so the spelling difference is strictly gratuitous. Illiterate English speakers wouldn't notice any difference at all. Luckily, too is much rarer, and has a very specific sense, and that's how you can distinguish them.

If /tu/ means so much that Not (Possible X), spell it too. Otherwise spell it to.

  • I'm too tired = I'm so tired that X is not possible (for me).
  • It's too late = It's so late that X is not possible.
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Much of the time, ‘to’ is pronounced /tə/, is it not? 'Too' never is. –  Barrie England Dec 18 '11 at 18:03
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Yes, it's often reduced, and that's another clue, if one is listening to a native speaker speak rapidly. But often one is not. –  John Lawler Dec 18 '11 at 18:13
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Too is used with the following meanings:

  • more than is desirable, permissible, or possible; excessively; very
  • also; in addition; moreover

In phrases such as "you are driving too fast," too is a submodifier, which modifies the adjective that follows it; that is what happens in "too dazzling" too, as dazzling is an adjective.

She is wearing a shirt that seems a size too small for her. [It's not "to small."]
Will you accept the invite too?
She is too kind.
She is a grown woman, and a strong one too.

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Here's one way, Fabian, which should work in most cases. If the following word is an adjective or an adverb, use too. For anything else (except '2') use to.

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Since the rules have now been well covered, here is a mnemonic device.

"Too" is used to represent excess or addition, e.g.

"I will be there too", or "There are too many monkeys in this cage"

So when expressing those ideas of "extra" somehow, use the word that has an "extra" O.

And "To" for everything else.

--

Also, you don't need this one since two/zwei don't cause the same confusion for a German speaker that to/too/zu do, but for the benefit of readers coming from other languages, here's a mnemonic often taught to children for the number two:

Since the W in two looks like a three (3) when turned sideways, that's your reminder to use "two" when counting.

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