English Grammar: The Difference between ‘So’ & ‘Too’

This lesson explains the differences between these two sentences:

  1. John is so tall.
  2. John is too tall.

Let's begin with #1 - the rules for so.

John is so tall.

So is used before an adjective for emphasis (to make the statement stronger). Let's compare these sentences:

so + adjective

  • The soup is hot.
  • The soup is so hot.

The second sentence is stronger. Here, so has a similar meaning to 'very' (but it is a little stronger). The same is true of sentences with 'so many/much' + a noun. For example:

so many/much + noun

  • He has many friends.
  • He has so many friends.

So in the second sentence is an intensifier and is used for emphasis, making the sentence a little bit stronger. When so many or so much are used before a noun, it means a lot. If you have a lot of money, then you have so much money.

(Remember: many is used before plural countable nouns (e.g. friends, people); much is used before uncountable nouns (e.g. money, wine).)

Note: So cannot be used before a noun. For example, we cannot say 'He is so nice man'. Instead, we use such (He is such a nice man). For a review of this grammar, please visit this page on the difference between so and such.


John is too tall.

Too is used for emphasis also, but it means 'more than needed' or 'more than enough.' It is used to show that something is bad (negative) or that something is over the desired limit. Take a look at these ideas:

  1. John is so tall. He plays basketball well. (His tallness is not a bad thing)
  2. John is too tall. He cannot sit comfortably on an airplane. (His tallness is a bad thing)

The second sentence means that he is very tall and that is a bad thing. His height is over the limit. He is 2 meters tall. Therefore he cannot fit on an airplane. John is too tall.

Let's look at more examples.

  1. You work so hard. I wish everyone worked like you. :)
  2. You work too hard. You should take a break. :(

Again, the second sentence is a negative comment. You are saying that the person works more than enough and should work less.

Because too describes something bad (negative), the below sentences do not make sense.

    • This is too delicious! = This is so delicious.
    • I am too happy! = I am so happy
    • She is too beautiful! = She is so beautiful.

These sentences all describe good (positive) things, so we do not use too.

NoteToo is often used in the structure too + adjective/adverb + infinitive

  • The pizza is too hot to eat. = (The pizza is too hot. I cannot eat it)
  • You are too young to watch that movie. = (You are not old enough)
  • I was too tired to do my homework. ( = I didn't do it. My tiredness was 'over the limit', so I slept).
  • She ran too slowly to win the race. (= Her speed was too slow; she could not win)
  • She speaks too poorly to get a job. (= Her writing is not good enough; she cannot get a job)

Again, in all these sentences, too means over the limit or more than a desired quantity/level.

Following these rules, we still come across sentences that are similar in meaning. For example:

  • It's so hot today. Let's stay inside.  (very hot)
  • It's too hot today. Let's stay inside. (there is too much heat so we cannot go outside)

Both of these sentences are correct and work well in this situation. In many situations though, one word is more suitable than the other. Look at this example:

  1. The camera was ___ expensive, but I bought it.
  2. The camera was ___ expensive. I didn't buy it.

What's the answer for #1? So is the best answer. Why? If it were too expensive, then you couldn't have bought it. It would be over the limit of the money you had (unless you had a credit card). The camera was so expensive (very expensive), but you bought it. The price was within your limits.

What's the answer for #2? Too. The price was too high. You didn't have enough money. Therefore, you could not buy it. You could use 'so' here to mean it was very expensive. But if you want to express that the price was higher than you could afford, use too expensive.

Those are the main differences between so and too in English grammar. To summarize, so is similar to very (but a little stronger) and too is used to used to describe a (negative) situation when something is over a limit.

Do you think you understand? Take the So/Too Quiz!

1. This cake is   delicious. I want another piece!

2. There were  many people in the train, so I couldn't get on.

3. When I was a child, I had  much free time. I loved it.

4. The salaries at that company are   high. I want to work there!

5. Roger thinks that he's  old to go to nightclubs. He says that he'd rather stay home and watch TV.

6. You put  much salt in the soup. It tastes terrible.

7. You are  beautiful.

Show Answers
  1. so
  2. too
  3. so
  4. so
  5. too
  6. too
  7. so

I hope this lesson has been helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below.

- Matthew Barton of Englishcurrent.com


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55 comments on “English Grammar: The Difference between ‘So’ & ‘Too’

  1. Hung Danh (Posted on 12-22-2016 at 11:46) Reply

    It is good to know when to use so or too

    1. Hardik suthar (Posted on 4-9-2022 at 05:07) Reply

      Excellent site for grammar

  2. wara (Posted on 4-8-2017 at 08:09) Reply

    Very helpful. Especially understand-tests at the end. Thank you very much.

  3. Sara Echeverry (Posted on 6-15-2017 at 14:28) Reply

    It’s helpful, thanks. My question is,, can I use “Very” in de same way as “So”? Thanks.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-15-2017 at 15:20) Reply

      “So” and “very” are almost the same in meaning. Both are used for emphasis. The sentences, “She is so nice” and “She is very nice” are very similar in meaning (I can’t explain the difference but there is almost none). However, grammar-wise, you cannot use ‘very + many/much’. E.g. “He has very many friends” is incorrect (you have to use ‘so’ here).

    2. Ripusudan Kumar (Posted on 5-5-2019 at 05:23) Reply

      So and too completely understand but in this example I am confused to use them so I request to clear it ,she was so near to achieving her goal

      1. MB (Posted on 5-5-2019 at 15:42) Reply

        Both are possible. The meaning is slightly different.
        1) She was so near to achieving her goal. = This means she was very close.
        2) She was too near to achieving her goal. = This is negative; it describes a problem. Because she was TOO near to achieving her goal, something bad resulted.

  4. Comfort (Posted on 7-29-2017 at 01:07) Reply

    Infact, this is how most explainations suppose to be. It is well explanatory. Thank you sir.

  5. Ibrahim (Posted on 8-5-2017 at 13:46) Reply

    Thank you for the explanation, it is well understood

  6. Arun (Posted on 8-8-2017 at 16:58) Reply

    I can understand,read,write but as much i couldn’t speak,could you help me how to develop English speaking skills. (please mail me on -megavatharun@gmail.com)

  7. question (Posted on 8-18-2017 at 14:22) Reply

    Hey! friend what happen here you said that it was not possible so say “so” after an adjetive and then a noun, and you do it in the example with “It’s so hot today. Let’s stay inside”.
    could you explain that ?

    1. MB (Posted on 8-18-2017 at 21:19) Reply

      today is an adverb of time. Nouns are things like chairs, boys, or money.

  8. Yve (Posted on 9-19-2017 at 16:24) Reply

    oh my oh my…it was very helpful, used to struggle with both of them. it was very easy to understand. God bless you.

  9. Samuel (Posted on 1-4-2018 at 06:50) Reply

    Pls a question.
    Pls what is the correct answer to the question below.
    The crowd was …………… large that the Director became frightened.
    A. quite
    B. so
    C. too
    D. very
    Kindly give me an answer.

    1. Sauvik Leo (Posted on 2-18-2018 at 02:44) Reply

      The crowd was too large that the director became frightened.

      1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-18-2018 at 12:55) Reply

        *so large that

        1. Akd (Posted on 6-22-2021 at 16:16) Reply

          Why not too or very large?

          1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-22-2021 at 22:11)

            You have to use `so’ because `so’ can be combined with THAT + clause. You cannot say `too/very … THAT…’

      2. shanice (Posted on 6-11-2020 at 06:52) Reply


  10. siti juenah (Posted on 1-10-2018 at 02:14) Reply

    The crowd was so large that the director become frightened.

  11. Djira (Posted on 3-7-2018 at 09:51) Reply

    Thank a lot for what you are doing, these explanations are very helpful.
    Thank you very much

  12. Kianoosh (Posted on 5-11-2018 at 08:48) Reply

    With one is correct in this sentence.
    The book was………… boring that I decided to put it down.
    So or too?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 5-11-2018 at 11:15) Reply

      so. ____ + (adjective) + that = so

  13. Sanam (Posted on 9-12-2018 at 10:09) Reply

    Well the distinction on the usage of ‘too’ vs ‘so’ has been clarified in a way thats easily comprehensible.
    Here is a couple of sentence. Which of the following holds true and why?
    1) he was ‘so’ tired that he could not stand.
    2) he was ‘too’tired that he could not stand.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-12-2018 at 12:42) Reply

      #1). You cannot use ‘too’ (adjective) + THAT. Only ‘so’ can be used in this structure., e.g. ‘It was so easy that I didn’t need to study.’

    2. Paschal Uchechukwu Okoye (Posted on 9-20-2018 at 19:49) Reply

      Base on this lesson, the first one should have been “too” because he could not bear it anymore. If you said ” He was so tired, but still made it to stand( till the end), etc…that is correct! The second was is very correct! This is because he could not bear it, so therefore , he could not stand. Thank you, I hope I a being helpful.

      1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-20-2018 at 20:32) Reply

        You understand ‘too’ correctly. But if you want to use ‘too’ with the sentences above (from Sanam), you can use ‘He was too tired to stand.’ (this is too + adjective + infinitive). You cannot use ‘too + adjective + that’. If you want to use that structure, you have to use ‘so’ sadly.

        1. Sura.Anand.English teacher.india (Posted on 9-7-2019 at 09:59) Reply

          How fabulous Is the explanation given
          by you! Really ‘great’. & ‘appreciatable’.

  14. Sandrowww.NotOnlyGrammar.com (Posted on 11-19-2018 at 14:30) Reply

    Would you agree that the following are also acceptable?

    I am too happy for words to describe!
    She is too beautiful for her own good.

    1. MB (Posted on 11-19-2018 at 15:01) Reply

      Hello. Yes, both of those phrases are okay.

  15. Amit (Posted on 6-3-2019 at 03:21) Reply

    The way to the fort was too difficult that we could not reach the farthest point.
    Please find error in above sentence.

  16. Abubakari Abdul-Kudus (Posted on 12-15-2019 at 06:39) Reply

    It is so helpfull to learners.Thank you for this wonderfull explaination.

  17. Baharul Islam (Posted on 4-12-2020 at 03:36) Reply

    It’s so understandable I get it.

  18. Paula (Posted on 9-1-2020 at 02:57) Reply

    I just found this website and I am already fascinated by every detail. Thank you so much for the effort put into it. Keep it up!

    1. Donna (Posted on 9-4-2020 at 07:23) Reply

      Working with an ESL student and having a hard time explaining why:
      “I wish I hadn’t worked so much”, is preferable grammatically, rather than,
      “I wish I hadn’t worked too much”.

      Any suggestions?


      1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-4-2020 at 13:09) Reply

        Hello. Technically, both are possible. But, as you know, to work ‘too’ much is to commit a mistake, because anything with ‘too’ is excessive. Therefore, it is obvious anything with ‘too’ involves regret (or a wish otherwise). The fact that you ate too much or slept too much implies that you wish you hadn’t done these things. Therefore, there’s no need to state ‘I wish I hadn’t worked too much’, because ‘too’ already has this meaning. Stating ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so much’, however, has much more value, since ‘so’ doesn’t indicate regret, which makes the ‘I wish’ sentence worthwhile. Those are my two cents.

  19. tigalo (Posted on 12-18-2020 at 19:54) Reply

    Im so impresse with today lesson it good to no the difference

  20. Vivian (Posted on 2-23-2021 at 00:05) Reply

    *I am too happy for words to describe. *She is too beautiful for her own good. How can you say these sentences are correct when you said the word too cannot be used for positive statement like beautiful, happy,etc

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-23-2021 at 13:19) Reply

      The phrases are correct. They both indicate a negative idea: 1) you cannot describe your situation because you have too much happiness, and 2) her excessive beauty causes problems for her life. You can use ‘too’ with any adjective, but when you do so, it describes something negative (e.g. ‘He’s too rich — all of his friends are always asking him for money. Sometimes, he wishes he were poor again.’).

  21. LY (Posted on 3-19-2021 at 10:56) Reply

    1. I was so tired that it was as much as I could do to stop myself falling asleep.
    2. I was too tired that it was as much as I could do to stop myself falling asleep.
    Could you please explain those sentences? Are they both correct?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-19-2021 at 15:16) Reply

      The first sentence is correct. The second is not. Basically, you can say “so tired + that” but you cannot say “too tired + that”.

  22. Mai Ngoc Yen (Posted on 5-10-2021 at 20:30) Reply

    Here is my question:
    “There was _________ rain last week that several roads were flooded.”
    should I use “too much” or “so much” in this case?
    To my limited knowledge, “too much” means negative meaning that should be used to express the rain was too much.
    However, we also use “so many” or “so much” before a noun, it means a lot.
    If I use “so much” can be accepted in this case?
    Thank you so much for your help!

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 5-11-2021 at 09:31) Reply

      Hello. You have to use ‘so much’ because ‘so much’ can be combined with THAT + clause. You cannot say ‘too much … THAT…’

      1. Anonymous (Posted on 5-13-2021 at 02:29) Reply

        Thanks for your helpful explanation. This question was in the final exam for grade 9, and we are so confused because the answer is “too much”.
        Anyway, your support is greatly appreciated.

  23. Hamza (Posted on 10-22-2021 at 01:36) Reply

    So we use too when the second sentence is consequence of the first one ?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-23-2021 at 15:52) Reply

      No, that’s not correct. Please reread the above lesson.

  24. Bruna (Posted on 11-1-2021 at 06:58) Reply

    great content, thank you!

  25. Yasser (Posted on 2-15-2022 at 08:48) Reply

    I wish they weren’t too old to play football or I wish they weren’t so old

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-15-2022 at 10:08) Reply

      See note in the page, re: “Too is often used in the structure too + adjective/adverb + infinitive”

  26. om devkashi (Posted on 4-11-2022 at 08:16) Reply

    This article is so informative. I have got all correct.

  27. Erkan G. (Posted on 5-10-2022 at 15:13) Reply

    The explanation was so good! Thank you so much

  28. carlosbellido (Posted on 8-2-2022 at 09:50) Reply

    Very useful… thank you!!

  29. Naseeb (Posted on 1-16-2023 at 19:47) Reply

    Thank you very much but there’s still something I want to know . Can we use “too” + “not ” or other negative words ?

    1. MB (Posted on 1-17-2023 at 09:13) Reply

      Hello. We don’t use ‘not’ with too. For example, “This soup is too not cold” is very hard to understand, and not natural.

  30. Kelly hu (Posted on 1-29-2024 at 19:25) Reply

    So is good. Too much is bad

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