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I can’t believe I make too many mistakes in Turkish.

I’m a native English speaker trying help a friend understand why it sounds off to use “too many” here but I can’t seem to figure out why.

To me, “so many” sounds much better. Does anyone have a grammatical explanation for why it doesn’t really work with “too many”?

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    Depends on context and inflection. – Hot Licks Mar 16 '20 at 1:50
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    If I told you that you make too many mistakes in Turkish and you can’t believe that then that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say. But it doesn’t mean the same as “so many”. – Jim Mar 16 '20 at 2:01
  • @Jim yeah, he had wanted to say it without a comment like that, just after he made a mistake that he was embarrassed about – jacoballens Mar 16 '20 at 2:02
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    Well, how many is too many? A lot. So that would be so many then. In that context, it sounds like...'I can't believe I make extra mistakes'...or something like that. It is hard to explain. (dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/…) – KannE Mar 16 '20 at 2:49
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    To me "I can’t believe I make too many mistakes in Turkish." gives the impression that there is a number of mistakes that is acceptable, and that you have exceeded that number. "Many" must have a referent: e.g. "You have taken too many [apples]" = You have taken more [apples] than the number allowed. – Greybeard Mar 16 '20 at 10:39
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Too equates to more than necessary, which isn't what you are wanting to say, apparently. So equates to very.

Notice that "I don't believe I make too many mistakes in Turkish" is perfectly normal; and "I don't believe I make so many mistakes in Turkish" sounds a bit odd.

So is a strengthening intensifier, and wants consistency from can't, which is also a strenghtened version of don't. Awkwardly, words that weaken the situation are also called intensifiers. Your sentence is trying to strengthen quantification of the mistakes, so can't and so work here. My sentence with don't is trying to weaken the quantification of the mistakes, so don't and too work as a pair.

Looked for, but didn't find, collocation data and analysis for verbs do, can and intensifiers too, so.

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    There is a more colloquial sense of too as very, however. "Huh, look at that -- ya don't see too many phone booths around, anymore, do ya?" – Jacob C. Mar 16 '20 at 23:17
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This is idiomatic English meaning roughly ".. that I make many mistakes," The word "too" is just a concession admitting that some mistakes are made. For example, some of these "too often" phrases or this "We don't see that around here too often" likewise don't use "too" in the sense of "excessive."

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I think the reason it sounds off to you as a native is that it could be interpreted in a different way than intended.

I can't believe I make too many mistakes. => I don't think I make a lot of mistakes. I can't believe I make so many mistakes. => I think I make a lot of mistakes.

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I think 'I can't believe' here is a red herring because it's just implying a surprise on the part of the speaker. So the question is why

I make too many mistakes in Turkish.

sounds off.

Too is defined in Oxford as:

To a higher degree than is desirable, permissible, or possible; excessively.

That is, you'd normally need a certain degree that is desirable, permissible, or possible, in context, in order to use too, and in the context in which your friend is using that sentence, such a degree is not apparent (not at least to you). Hence your feeling that it's off.

But unbeknownst to you, your friend might have thought of such a degree, in which case I think he or she can use too.

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    "I make too many mistakes in Turkish" sounds good to me. "Too many" means more than expected or acceptable – Stefan Mar 16 '20 at 11:28
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    This answer is way off. The whole point is that "can't believe" has to go with "so many", and "don't believe" has to go with "too many". – TonyK Mar 16 '20 at 16:56
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    I make too many mistakes in [Turkish]. does not sound off to me. I make many mistakes, and I make too many mistakes are both fine and idiomatic. – Mari-Lou A Mar 16 '20 at 16:57
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"Too many" implies a goal. Using it in your example, without reference to the goal, sounds wrong.

Try

"I can’t believe I make too many mistakes in Turkish to use the language as an effective means of communication"

It sounds much better.

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