Homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings, make for a great deal of confusion for many people when writing in English. There are numerous homophones in the language, but some are extra troublesome because of how often we use those particular words. “Two,” “too,” and “to,” for example, are all frequently used in all kinds of contexts, and that makes it important for writers of every level to know which one is which.
Two is the simplest of the bunch, having only one real purpose, and that’s to be a number. It is the spelling for the numeral “2” and not much more can be said about it, so let’s look at some examples:
- We own two cars.
- There are two baseball teams in New York.
- I bought two pounds of vegetables.
If you’re having trouble remembering how to spell it, try to remember that it is the only “two” to contain a “w,” and that may help clear things up. Why? Because it has a double-u, and two has double the value of one.
Alternatively, you can think of other numbers that contain the number 2. Twelve and twenty (12 and 20) also both contain a “w” in their spelling.
Oddly enough, while “two” only has one real purpose, both “to” and “too” have two functions. In the case of “too,” the first one is another way of saying “also,” “as well” or “in addition.” Examples of the right way to use “too” include:
- I like video games too.
- Can my friend come too?
- I think that book belongs to the teacher too.
The other use for the word “too” is to show an abundance or an excess. It’s used to show that there is more of something than there ought to be:
- We ate too much cake.
- The concert was too loud.
- This bus is too slow.
If you can replace your “too” with the word “also,” or “excessive/excessively,” then you should use “too.”
Like “too,” there is more than one use for “to.” The first function is as a preposition that indicates people or things are moving toward each other:
- I am going to the concert.
- We went to the store.
- She will go to school.
- He loaned the car to me.
The second use is what we call an infinitive. It is used before a verb, usually to indicate that the verb happened, will happen, might happen, or has happened:
- We would like to help, if we can.
- I am going to cook.
- She needs to leave soon.
Simply put, if you’re talking about a number, you’re thinking of “two.” If you’re talking about an addition or an excess, you should be using “too.” If you’re not doing either of those, “to” is the word you want.