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TOO, VERY & SO; These three words are examples of adverbs of degree.
In order to proceed to the substantive issue under discussion, we need to first of all, understand the meaning of adverbs of degree, examples of adverbs of degree vis-à-vis the types of adverbs of degree.

Adverbs of degree; These are adverbs that are used to indicate the extent to which an action takes place.

Examples of adverbs of degree; rather, quite, extremely, utterly, fairly, so, very, too etc.
These adverbs do one of two things; they either emphasize an adjective by increasing its strength or by reducing its strength. Adverbs that increase the strength of adjectives are called intensifiers. E.g. so, too, very etc. We will be discussing these adverbs because their usage pose a very serious challenge to most users of the language.

Other category of degree adverbs is the downtoners; these adverbs decrease the strength of adjectives. Eg. Fairly, quite etc.


  1. Too; this is an adverb of degree that is used with an adjective to indicate that the quality being expressed is either excessive or problematic.

How to Use ‘Too’

Let’s take these two adjectives to exemplify how too is used; difficult and expensive.
E.g. a. This bag is too expensive.

Too‘ as used in this context suggests that the price of the bag is excessive. It may also suggest that the price of the bag poses a challenge to the buyer, hence the price is seen to be problematic in this context with an unstated negative consequence.

E.g. 2. The task is too difficult.

In the second example, too is used to emphasize the difficulty of the task, it suggests that the difficulty is excessive and may have a negative implication (though the implication is unstated).

Below is a conversation to exemplify how ‘too’ is used;

John: Do you want to buy that shirt, Wumbei?
Wumbei: I am afraid John, It is too expensive.

This means it is expensive, and because it is expensive, I can’t afford it.

Teacher: Can you do this assignment, Bayong?
Bayong: I am sorry sir, it is too difficult.

What it means is that the assignment is difficult, and because of that, Bayong cannot do it.

When we want to show that something is excessive and could be problematic, we use too+adjective.

2. Very

However, we use very+adjective when we want to only emphasize it.

Let me state emphatically that it is not ungrammatical to use ‘very‘ where we can use ‘too’; it is very grammatical, but there is a slight difference in meaning between the two when used within the same context, it is this difference that poses the challenge to both students and teachers alike.

Below are some examples;
1.a. The bag is very expensive.

This is just a statement that the bag costs a lot of money.

  1. b. The bag is too expensive.

This implies the bag costs a lot of money, so I cannot afford it.

2. a. Student: Sir, The assignment is very difficult.

This is just a statement that the assignment is difficult……very difficult.

2.b. Student: Sir, the assignment is too difficult.

This statement implies that the assignment is difficult, and because of that, the student cannot do it.

The second difference;

  • a. i. The man is too handsome ✖
  • a. ii. The man is very handsome ✔
  • b. i. The girl is too humble ✖
  • b. ii. The girl is very humble ✔

sentence a. i, and b. i, are incorrect because the adverb of degree or intensifier ‘too’ cannot and can never be used with a positive adjective, that is to say an adjective that has a positive orientation in terms of meaning.

However, we use very with positive adjectives, although it can also be used with negative adjectives as well.

That suggests that in examination situation, when we have an adjective that ought to be modified by either too or very, the first thing that should come to our mind should be the meaning of the adjective that is to be modified; that is, if the meaning is positive, then we go for very, however, if the meaning is negative, then you gladly go for too.

Here are two questions for practice;

  1. John: I think the man is good.
    Alhassan: You don’t know, that man is……..wicked
    a. Very
    b. Too

2. love my class madam, she is………smart.

a. Very

b. Too

  1. So
    The usage of ‘so’ does not pose that much of a challenge as compared to the earlier two (too & very) we have discussed.

‘So’ can be used where either very or too is used, that is to say that it can be used with both positive and negative adjectives, however, whenever it is used with an adjective, it is used to show a cause and an effect relationship, such that the so + the adjective suggests the cause and an accompanying dependent clause is mandatorily introduced by ‘that’ to suggest an effect.

E.g. 1. The man is so wicked that children fear him.
E.g. 2. The woman is so generous that she is loved by all.

Now, let’s exemplify how to use Too, very and so for the last time.

E.g 1.a. The bag is too expensive.

Too+ the adjective is used to suggest there is a problem with the price of the bag. That is too + negative adjective.

E.g 1.b. The bag is so expensive that I cannot buy it.

So + the adjective is used to suggest a cause and effect relationship. The cause is, the bag is expensive,
Then, the effect is, that I cannot buy it.
So + negative adjective

E.g. 2.a. The bag is very beautiful.

Very+ the adjective is used to emphasize the beauty of the bag. That is very + positive adjective.

E.g 2.b. The bag is so beautiful that I bought.

So + the adjective is used to indicate a cause and effect relationship. The cause being the bag is so beautiful, and the effect being that I bought it.
So + positive adjective.

In a nutshell,

Too, very and so are intensifiers.

‘Too’ is used plus an adjective to suggest there is an excess of something, or to suggest that there is a problem, though unstated.

‘Too’ is used to modify only negative adjectives. It can never modify positive adjectives. E.g It is wrong to say, the lady is too beautiful.

‘Very’ is used to modify an adjective to emphasize it. It can be used with both negative and positive adjectives, however, its usage does not suggest there is an unstated problem unlike its counterpart, ‘too’.
It is very correct to say, the bag is too expensive, or the bag is very expensive.

‘So’ is used with both positive and negative adjectives, however, whenever it is used, it suggests a cause and effect relationship such there is always an accompanying subordinate clause introduced by ‘that’.

Try your hands on the text below by filling in the blanks with ‘too’, ‘very’ and ‘so’.

How to use very, too and so is………..difficult. It is……………..difficult that both teachers and students encounter difficulties when they try using them. I hope this lesson has now made their usage………….easy. Their usage has now become…………….easy that you are smiling as you are filling in the blanks.

The end!


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