Grammar – Understanding So and Too

by Melanie on January 7, 2010

This post was inspired by a question my student asked. She wanted to know which sentence was correct:

You’ve got to tell him that he’s getting so old to drive a car.

You’ve got to tell him that he’s getting too old to drive a car.

What do you think? The answer is at the end of this post!

In the two sentences above, so and too are used as adverbs. In this post I will discuss WHEN and WHEN NOT to use so and too as adverbs used to describe adjectives. I will also discuss which words and phrases can be used instead of so and too: such, so many, so much, too much and too many.

 

~

So

 

  • As an adverb, so is an intensifier. It intensifies, or makes stronger, the adjective or adverb that follows it.
  • So is used like very, but so is a much stronger exclamation.

 

1. So is used BEFORE the adjective or adverb.

So + adjective/ adverb (no noun)

She is so skinny.

Her new boyfriend is so handsome.

Don’t be so naïve!

He drives so fast.

Her new outfit is so lovely.

The cake she made for my birthday is so beautiful!

This movie is so long.

It was so good to talk to you today!

When did he get so fat?

That’s so cool!

 

2. So CANNOT be used before an adjective + noun

X: She is so a beautiful woman.
X: She is a so beautiful woman.

 

Instead, before a noun use such:

such + adjective + noun

She is such a beautiful woman!

I love my new boyfriend. He’s such a great person!

You live in such a nice neighbourhood.

He is such a great singer!

We had such a great day today! The weather was so nice.

He tells such awful jokes.

I love listening to them sing. They have such beautiful voices!

 

3. So much and so many can be used when you want a stronger way of saying a lot!

With an uncountable noun, use so much:

so much + uncountable noun

I have so much studying to do before the test tomorrow!

Have you ever seen so much food?

There is so much work to be done before the house is clean!

What a great day for skiing! There is so much snow!

So much to do, so little time!

 

With a plural noun, use so many:

so many + plural noun

I’ve never seen so many people in one place!

It was a great party last night. I met so many new people!

She’s really popular. She has so many friends!

There are so many cards to choose from.

I took so many pictures when I was on vacation!

So many books to read, so little time!

There are so many people to thank for this award!

 

4. Special sentence structure with so:

So + adjective + that clause

This sentence structure is used to talk about a result (that clause) that occurs because of  so + adjective. That can be left out of the sentence.

The children were so quiet (that) I didn’t even know they were in the room!

The cake was so good (that) we couldn’t stop eating it!

She looks so different (that) I hardly recognize her!

We got to the station so late we missed the train!

 

*Adverbs can also be used in this sentence structure:

She ran so fast she won the race!

 

*Such, so many and so much can all be used in this sentence structure:

It was such a good book (that) I couldn’t put it down.

I read so many books last year (that) I can’t remember them all!

I have so much studying to do (that) I won’t be able to go to the party tonight!

 

~

 

Too

 

  • Too can be used the same way as so, but it has a completely different meaning.
  • Too is an intensifier that is used to mean more than needed, more than necessary, or more than enough. It is a negative expression

 

1. Like so, too is used BEFORE an adjective or adverb with NO noun.

Too + adjective / adverb (no noun)

We don’t see her very often. She lives too far away.

Turn the music down. It’s too loud!

She drives too fast.

Don’t work too hard!

Don’t stay out too late. You have to get up early tomorrow!

She tried memorizing the textbook the night before the exam, but it was too little, too late.

 

2. However, in two circumstances, too can be used in a positive statement:

You are too funny! = You are so funny! = You are very funny!

You are too kind! = You are so kind! = You are very kind!

 

3. Sometimes another intensifier can be added in front of too:

These pants are way too big on me.

She is way too skinny!

She is far too young to be wearing that kind of outfit!

It’s much too late to do anything about global warming.
(*not to be confused with too much!)

 

4. Too CANNOT be used before an adjective + noun

X: She is too a fat woman.
X: She is a too fat woman.

 

5. There is no similar word as such to use before adjective + noun

 

6. Too much and too many have a similar meaning as too.

With an uncountable noun, use too much:

too much + uncountable noun

I feel sick. I drank too much (alcohol) last night!

I ate too much chocolate.

It takes up too much time.

If he has that much time to play video games, then he has way too much time on his hands!

She was a famous singer by the time she was 15! The fame was too much, too soon.

 

*Sometimes students say to me, “Teacher, I love your class too much!” This is NOT a good thing to say! Too much is a negative expression. It’s better to say, “I like your class a lot” or “I really like your class!

 

With a plural noun, use too many:

too many + plural noun

Is it possible to have too many friends?

She’s fooled me one too many times.

How many TVs are too many?

There are way too many cars on the road.

My son is so spoiled. He has far too many toys!

I’m being pulled in too many directions!

 

7. Special sentence structure with too:

too + adjective + infintive (to do something)

This structure is used to explain why someone can’t do something.

I’m too tired to go out tonight.

This soup is too hot to eat.

She is too young to drive a car!

This box is too heavy to carry.

I don’t want to go to bed yet! It’s too early (to go to bed).

We’re far too young to get married.

It’s too dangerous to walk around this neighbourhood at night.

There’s no use getting upset. It’s too late to do anything about it now.

It’s too good to be true!

I can’t go to her party tonight, I have too much work to do!

The house was too expensive to buy.

Her offer was too good to refuse.

 

*Adverbs can also be used:

She drove too slowly to arrive on time.

We got home too late to see the beginning of the TV show.

 

*Too many and too much can also be used:

There were too many people at the picnic to count.

I had too much work to do yesterday.

 

8. Another special sentence structure with too:

too + adjective + for someone/something (+ infinitive)

This sweater is too big for me to wear.

We can’t go on this roller coaster. Alice is too short for this ride!

I’m too old for dolls! = I’m too old to play with dolls!

This box is too heavy for me to carry.

 

~

 

Back to the original question:

You’ve got to tell him that he’s getting so old to drive a car.

You’ve got to tell him that he’s getting too old to drive a car.

Have you figured out yet which sentence is correct?

 

~

 

Quiz:

1. The soup was ______ hot that I couldn’t eat it.

2. The soup was ______ hot to eat.

3. It’s _______ cold to go outside.

4. There were far ________ people at the party for me to meet them all!

5. Susan Boyle’s CD was _____ good that I rushed out and bought it right away!

6. “Did you buy that new car?”
~ “No, I didn’t. It cost _______.”

7. He’s _______ a nice guy!

8. We are _______ far away that I don’t think we’re going to be on time for the concert.

9. I can’t stand spending time with her – she is ______ rude!

10. He’s _______ intelligent for his class – he’s not learning anything.

 

~

 

Answers:

1. so 2. too 3. too 4. too many 5. so 6. too much 7. such 8. so 9. so 10. too
Original question:

You’ve got to tell him that he’s getting too old to drive a car.

Did you get it right?

 


1 its.me.m4rkos December 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Really very great lesson as usual. =)

You solved a doubt (doubts) I had about the use of these adjectives and adverbs. I used to use some of them uncorrectly in a sentence and I thought it was right.

Thanks for clearing my mind (lol) and the great job, Melanie.
=D

2 Alex Kovalov March 5, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Awesome.

3 Laura September 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Hi!
I would like to know if I could use “so” in sentences like these:
I was so right there!
and
I could so marry him!

=)

Melanie 4 Melanie September 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Hi, Laura!

Yes, you can use ‘so’ in those sentences in informal spoken English. ‘So’ is kind of like a slang word in those sentences, and it’s a new & very informal way of speaking. It’s not usually used this way in formal writing.

= )

5 Nabila September 27, 2012 at 9:01 am

thank you so much for posting this!
If you were my teacher I would be very happy :)

6 Dr. John E. Joseph November 14, 2012 at 5:19 am

Good concepts well delivered.

7 Sarvar December 12, 2012 at 6:04 am

yesterday, I passed the test for english course, and I got this question:
I am …. tired to do my homework.
a) too b) so d) very ..
I was too confused to solve it, coz I never learnt about too and so, coz I thought they all are used the same way. After all, I’ve choosen “so”. After exam, I made a search over the google and found this lessons. It’s very great! Thanks a lot!

8 Gaurav sharma December 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm

You are a veteran, thank you for putting some light on the topic that i was confused about……….

9 Hosseini January 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Hi
thank you a lot teacher melanie.

10 Janka February 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hello!

I want to ask you. I still don’t understand the difference between these two sentences.

The soup was so hot, I had to leave it and eat it an hour later.
The soup is too hot, so I will have it later.

As well as your quiz.

1. The soup was ______ hot that I couldn’t eat it.

2. The soup was ______ hot to eat.

Why the first take so, and the second one too, please? Thanks in advance!

Melanie 11 Melanie February 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Hi, Janka!

1. The soup was SO hot that I couldn’t eat it.
The soup was so hot, (that) I had to leave it and eat it an hour later.

You can also write this as two separate sentences.
The soup was too hot. I had to leave it and eat it an hour later.

2. The soup was TOO hot to eat.
The soup is too hot, so [conjunction] I will have it later.

Why? These are the sentence structures used in English. They sound natural and ‘correct’ to native English speakers. If you said, “The soup was TOO hot that I couldn’t eat it,” it would sound unnatural and incorrect to a native English speaker. It will take your listener a little longer to understand what you are saying.

12 Janka February 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Thank you very much! :)

13 nima_persian March 13, 2013 at 4:22 am

Hi dear
Could you please tell me more about (much)? is it an intensifier to intensify an adjective?

where can I use (much) as intensifier as an adjective??
for example :This tea is much hot.(This tea is too much hot.)or(This tea is so much hot.)
is that correct?why not?
best regards.

Melanie 14 Melanie March 26, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Hi, nima_persian,

You can remember it this way:
‘too much’ goes with uncountable nouns
‘much too’ goes with adjectives

‘Much’ is used with uncountable nouns:
This tea is too hot.
This tea is very hot.

‘Much’ can also be used as an intensifer for comparative adjectives:
This tea is much hotter (than that tea)

NOTE: ‘Much’ is not used with regular adjectives:
X: This tea is much hot. [incorrect]

‘Much’ can be an intensifier for ‘too’ + adjecitve:
This tea is much too hot.

I hope this helps!
= )

15 Ana April 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Hi Melanie,

Why on exercise 8 we need to use so instead of too??? Far away and the context of the sentence seems a negative thing. Why don´t we use too in that case?

Congratulations for your website.

Thanks,

Ana
from Brazil

Melanie 16 Melanie April 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Good question, Ana!

“8. We are _______ far away that I don’t think we’re going to be on time for the concert.”

Take a look at the sentence structure: so + adjective (far away) THAT _______. It is the sentence structure from #4 in the explanation of ‘so.’ You need to use ‘so’ with this sentence structure. You can’t use ‘too.’ If you use ‘too,’ it sounds unnatural and incorrect to a native speaker.

= )

17 Rafael April 24, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Hello teacher!
Awesome explanation! But I’m in doubt with quiz num 9. I have put “too” but you said it’s so. Why?

Thanks!

Melanie 18 Melanie April 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Hi, Rafael,

Good question!

Instead of “I’m in doubt with quiz number 9,” you can say “I have a question about question 9 on the quiz.”

‘Too’ isn’t used with ‘rude.’ ‘Too rude’ sounds unnatural and incorrect to a native speaker. ‘Rude’ is already a negative word. It’s a negative character trait, so it’s odd to say ‘too rude.’

= )

19 Rafael April 27, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Nice! I got it! Thank you for the double correction :)

20 gessica April 27, 2013 at 7:02 am

Congratulations for your post! It was so important to me! ;) I’m still learning English and I’m sure if you were my teacher I would learn a lot! Thank you!

21 Rudolf May 29, 2013 at 7:56 am

He is so skilled a photographer!
Melanie, you are so nice a woman!
I couldn’t find this construction in the above examples, but I am pretty sure it is correct.
Thanks for your help.

Melanie 22 Melanie May 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Hi, Rudolf,

No, your sentences are not correct. That’s why you couldn’t find them in the above examples.

Let’s review two points from the above article:
1. So + adjective/ adverb (no noun)

“He is so skilled.”
“You are so nice.”

2. So CANNOT be used before an adjective + noun
X: She is so a beautiful woman.
X: She is a so beautiful woman.
[Both these sentences are INCORRECT.]

Instead, before a noun use such: such + adjective + noun

“He is such a skilled photographer!”
“Melanie, you are such a nice woman!”

= )

23 sam July 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm

i value your love to teach the people, and definitely your students are lucky thank u for helping us in what we were confused about :)

24 ameer August 9, 2013 at 9:21 am

very good,
thanks for this post

25 bahman August 17, 2013 at 10:06 am

thanks a lot lady, it was so perfect.

26 Ice September 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

i guess he missed me too much .. i guess he missed me so much ..

Which one is correct? do reply ASAP
thanks. :)

Melanie 27 Melanie September 25, 2013 at 7:11 pm

“He missed me so much.”

“I guess he missed me a lot!”

“I guess he really missed me!”

= )

28 Samuel October 19, 2013 at 12:31 am

Hi, there.. You are so nice to teach us this things eventhough you are too far from us..

29 Nilmi October 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Thank you Melanie, You are a wonderful teacher. I learnt a lot form this lesson.Not like other teachers, you teaches valuable points without charging money. I really appreciate it.

30 hnan November 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Hi
Thanks alot Melanie for this lesson , but there is something
Is this sentence true :
The ice is not too thin to drive on .( why we use not )
too means not -why there is (not) in here
Is it similar meaning with :
1- The ice is so thick that you can drive on it .
2- The ice is thick enough to drive on.

Melanie 31 Melanie November 15, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hi, Hnan!

“The ice is not too thin to drive on.”
“The ice is thick enough to drive on.”
These two sentences mean the same thing: It’s possible to drive on the ice. Sentence #2 is more common. Sentence #1 could be in response to the question “Is the ice too thin to drive on?”

“The ice is so thick that you can drive on it.”
This sentence is not similar to the other two because of ‘so.’ ‘So thick’ means that it is VERY thick. We don’t know that from the other two sentences. We don’t know how thick it is. We just know that it’s thick enough to drive on. (Now, logically, ice would have to be VERY thick to drive on it, but I’m just pointing out the differences in sentence structure.

= )

32 angelina January 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Hello,
I was wondering if you could be so kind to tell me if it is possible to say: “it is too big a car” or something like that because I think I have heard that, but I would like to know what the grammar rule behind it is. Thank you.

Melanie 33 Melanie February 26, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Hi, Angelina,

“It is too big a car” is not correct. Instead, say, “The car is too big.”

= )

34 Anger Marian March 6, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Congratulations! Your lesson it is very useful.

35 Bwalya April 30, 2014 at 4:00 am

Does ‘too…to’ go with ‘not’? Eg. He is too old not to drink.

Melanie 36 Melanie May 9, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Hi, Bwalya!

Yes, you can use that sentence structure.

Actually, I heard someone use that structure on TV recently:
“I used to be too proud to admit it, but now I’m too proud NOT to admit it!”

= )

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