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I have a problem with using "too" in a sentence. In what situation would you use "too" instead of "so" or "very"? Please include an example to illustrate the difference.

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It depends on whether you're talking about formal or informal English.

In formal English, "so" or "very" are neutral, and "too" is negative. All three terms mean that the noun has a lot of the quality under discussion, but "too" also means that having so much is a problem.

To make things more confusing, in informal English, "too" can be used in a positive sense, as hyperbole. So ordinarily, if you say something is "too cute," it means you're criticizing its aesthetics. But if you say, "Oh, my God! That's too cute! I love it!" it just means "very cute."

To sum up:

That picture is very sexy. We're going to sell a million copies!

means you approve of it.

That picture is too sexy. We're going to sell a million copies!

means the same thing but is informal and would only be used in some English dialects. On the other hand:

That picture is too sexy. We can't hang it up in this elementary school!

means that you disapprove of the picture's sexiness.

How can you tell which one the speaker means? Only through context. When in doubt, though, avoid using "too" in this sense unless you disapprove.

  • Thank you very much. I have a question. Can I say he was too proud instead of he was very proud? – user57550 Apr 18 '14 at 19:03
  • Which one is correct? – user57550 Apr 18 '14 at 19:04
  • If you think his being so proud is a problem, and that he should be less proud, you can say "too proud." If you just want to express that he was extremely proud, with no value judgment, then you can say "very proud." – chapka Apr 18 '14 at 19:05
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    'Too' is not strictly negative, but means crossing a line: You are too kind (formal and gracious). That was too easy! Rich and still low calorie is too good to be true. – Yosef Baskin Jan 30 '17 at 22:23
  • But if the situation is “He was too proud to admit that he had made a mistake” (i.e., he refused to admit his error because of how proud he was), then you would need to use “too”, and not “so” or “very”. Similarly, statements like “The cake was too big to fit into the refrigerator” indicate a problem or constraint, but not necessarily a value judgment. – Scott Jul 26 '18 at 3:39

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