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Taken from this question on a blog, how would correct usage in the situation where you are talking about "to, too and two" in the english language be phrased?

Would it be along the lines of "There are three variations of two/too/to", or would it be correct regardless of which variation was used?

  • You can certainly say it, but, short of resorting to IPA or adding weasel-words, you can't type it and claim that it's "legal" spelling/syntax. – Hot Licks Mar 24 '16 at 23:00
  • The plural of car is cars. The plural of bird is birds. The plural of cow is cows. The plural of two is twos. – RegDwigнt Mar 24 '16 at 23:10
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OED does use the spelling twos:

A.2.d. two and two, two by two, formerly also by two and two: in groups or sets of two; two at a time; by twos.

BUT you're not talking about the word two. You're talking about homophones of the word twoto, too and two. You can't say "There are three twos", because there aren't. [Well, two is listed as noun, adjective and adverb, so I suppose there are, but that's not relevant here.]

The best you can say is that there are three words which sound like two, or that there are two homophones of two (pick whichever variant you need for that one).

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Maybe you would have to write “There are three /tu/'s.” (As there are not three twos, but a two, a too, and a to, and they only equal by their pronunciation.)

  • And the problem is then that there are only two twos, or rather, two /tu/s. To certainly isn't pronounced the same as too or two in my English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 25 '14 at 23:33
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    @JanusBahsJacquet the pronounciation of "To" depends on whether it is stressed or not. In "TO be, or NOT to be - that is the question" the first "TO" is pronounced like "two/too" but the second "to" is unstressed and the vowel is therefore changed from an /u/ to a schwa. – Level River St Dec 26 '14 at 1:19
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    @steveverrill: Do you really stress the first to in "to be, or not to be"? I've only heard that phrase pronounced as three iambs, i.e., with the stresses on be, not, and be. – ruakh Dec 26 '14 at 5:59
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    @ruakh It's not a perfect example, just the most obvious. You are correct that the rules of iambic pentameter mean that the first "be" is generally pronounced more strongly pronounced than the first "to" but the entire third iamb is generally weaker than the first and second: "TO BE, or NOT (to be)?" A better example of different phonemes in strong pronounciation of words that are normally prononunced weakly is "a" and "the" in "They caught A shark, not THE shark" near the beginning of the movie Jaws. – Level River St Dec 26 '14 at 6:55
  • @steveverrill: I think a more-obvious example would be one using the preposition to, rather than the infinitive marker. The infinitive marker is very rarely stressed, but the preposition to is often stressed when contrasted with from. For example: "It's not allowed on the way to school, but on the way back from school it's O.K." (Incidentally, we also often use /tu/ for to before a vowel, e.g. "to answer", or at the end of a phrase, e.g. "Do you want to?") – ruakh Dec 26 '14 at 7:46
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In most dialects of AmE all three are homophones. So, in direct answer to your question, the spelling would not be an issue if you were SAYING it. But if I were to WRITE about it, I would write something like this: "These three English words sound alike: to, too, and two."

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No. Specifically speaking to, too, and two will not work without making the sentence more confusing than it already is. It is nearly impossible to make that one sentence make sense with one of those words. I bet this would boggle the teachers dont you think?

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