I hope this won’t be too difficult for students to understand…
Commonly confused words, whether they look the same, sound the same, or have the same meaning, are the sources of many recurring student errors. I’ve found that many students confuse “so” and “such” because they have the same meaning but a slightly different grammatical function. My students also have trouble with “so” and “too” for the opposite reason—they have the same grammatical function but the meaning is slightly different. It’s a great idea to review these terms with your English learners no matter what level they are at!
So Vs. Such
Meaning: So and such both have the meaning of very or a lot.
Grammatical function: So comes before an adjective, while such comes before an adjective + noun.
- That movie was so good.
- The test was so difficult.
- It is so cold in my room.
- My hometown is so beautiful.
- That was such a good movie.
- It was such a difficult test.
- He is such a good soccer player.
- My new coworkers are such talented people.
Tip: Students often incorrectly use so instead of such. Make sure you remind them that so + Adjective + Noun is impossible (e.g., we can’t say That was so a good movie or That was so good movie).
So Vs. Too
Meaning: So and too both have the meaning of very or a lot, but so is usually used for positive cases whereas too is used for negative cases. When so and too are both used for negative cases, so usually implies that something was completed or able to be done, while too implies it is incomplete or unable to be done. Too basically means can’t!
Grammatical function: So and too both come before an adjective (or adverb).
- That book was so interesting. (positive)
- My cat is so cute. (positive)
- The wiring is too complicated for me to fix. (negative)
- It is too tough to guess when this project will be finished. (negative)
- She finished the test so quickly. (positive)
- She finished the test too quickly. (negative)
- That test was so difficult. (negative, meaning is the test was really hard but I finished it)
- That test was too difficult. (negative, meaning is the test was really hard and I couldn’t finish it)
- It was so cold. (negative, one possible meaning is I went outside and it was very cold)
- It was too cold. (negative, one possible meaning is I didn’t go outside because it was very cold)
Tip: Students often use too incorrectly for positive situations. I’ve found it helpful to explain what the meaning with too actually is. For example:
- The movie was too good means that you were enjoying the movie so much that you couldn’t stand it and had to leave before it was over. This doesn’t really make sense!
- The pizza was too delicious means that you took a bite of the pizza and decided you couldn’t eat it because it tasted so good. Strange, right?
Note: So, such, and too also have other purposes and functions in English. Feel free to ask about other cases in the comments section below.