I was recently having a discussion with a friend on the "sure-thing principle" (not relevant but Google if you wish to know what that is). We were discussing it in the context of a scenario and the discussion ended with my friend stating the following;

The scenario is too simplistic

I argued that the scenario was not too simplistic but simply simplistic. This devolved into a discussion about how to use the word too.

I argued that, in this instance at least, the word too in that sentence changes the whole meaning. If you state

The scenario is simplistic

then what you are really saying is

The scenario is simple and could be more complex.

However if you state

The scenario is too simplistic

then the definition would change to

The scenario is simple and could and should be more complex

My friend argued that the word too does not change the meaning of the sentence at all, and that they are in fact the same.

Can anyone assert which is the correct definition, and why? Or if neither is correct, what would be the correct definitions?

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I remind you of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. "Too hot", "too cold", and "just right".

To say that something is "too simple" implies that it is simple in a negative way.

  • Which is what I thought and was trying to say, just not in as good a way as you just have. So to say it's too simplistic a scenario for the case is saying it in a negative way and therefore saying it should be more complex. Whereas to say that it is just simplistic is just a statement of fact with no positive of negative conjugations – jskrwyk Jan 12 '12 at 20:55
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    Simplistic on its own does have some negative connotations, and adding too intensifies that. Simple would have fewer negative connotations, but if you're trying to avoid them all together, minimalist might be the word you're looking for. – Hannele Jan 12 '12 at 21:00
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    @Hannele: I'd go a lot further than just some negative connotations. I don't think I've ever heard simplistic used in a positive/neutral way. In fact, it pretty much means "too simple", so arguably too simplistic is simply tautological. – FumbleFingers Jan 12 '12 at 23:21
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    "Simplistic" means "overly simple". In this case, "too" is an intensifier but doesn't change the meaning. – David Schwartz Jan 13 '12 at 8:32

The point is whether simplistic is already inherently negative and hence never needs too or not. The question is: can the sentence be so interpreted that the scenario's simplicity is not a bad thing? See here my attempt:

— Mr Aidolaikyu, I know this scenario is simplistic; but only by simplification could we work it out within the allotted time and budget. I believe the parameters essential to our question (will the reactor vat at Fukushima break?) are all present. As you say, we assume that the secondary chimney is a perfect cylinder; but I can assure you that this does not affect the essential outcome of in a meaningful way. It is simplistic, but not too much so.

— I'm terribly sorry, Mr Yusuk, but I believe your scenario is really too simplistic. You're fired. Have a nice life.

Perhaps too simplistic will be a rare phrase, because something simplistic is usually a bad thing; but I think sometimes it is not absurd to qualify something simplistic as too simplistic. Don't add too when something is simply too simple, though.

  • Occam's razor: everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. – Hugo May 23 '12 at 21:50

Too modifies an adjective or adverb to indicate the quality described is excessive in the context. To describe something as simplistic is to make a general statement about it. To describe it as too simplistic is to make a comment with a particular reference.

  • Thanks for the explanation Barrie. I only marked Marcuses answer as correct as I felt it answered the question more clearly. – jskrwyk Jan 12 '12 at 20:57

Just to muddy the situation, if used in a spoken context, "The situation is too simplistic" could also indicate that you're disagreeing with someone who's said that the situation is not simplistic, and doing so in a mildly childish manner.

A: "The situation is simplistic"

B: "No, the situation is complex"

A: "The situation is too simplistic"


The scenario is simplistic would not ordinarily be understood to mean The scenario is simple and could be more complex. It would ordinarily be understood to mean that the scenario ignores relevant complexities.

One online definition of simplistic is:

  1. characterized by extreme simplicity; naive
  2. oversimplifying complex problems; making unrealistically simple judgments or analyses

So it already contains the notion of excessive or inappropriate simplification. Adding "too" just intensifies that.

If the word was "simple" rather than simplistic, you'd be correct.

Also, you can create unusual situations where you would be correct. For example, if you're trying to simplify a very complex concept and you accept that you're going to have to be simplistic and omit even some important information to be suitable for your audience, someone could say, "I know you have to be a bit simplistic to explain supply and demand to fourth graders, but this is too simplistic."

But ordinarily, "simplistic" means "too simple". So putting "too" before "simplistic" doesn't change the meaning but at most intensifies it.


No one seems to have addressed the point about the implication,

The scenario is simple and could and should be more complex,

which I think is correct.

If the immediate retort was 'too simplistic for what?', it would have evoked the hidden implication.

By the way, simplistic is NOT simple. And the difference is not that simple either.

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