Written August 31, 2020


The Mistaken Usage of the Word, "too".

Note: This page is primarily written for Chinese learners of English. But I think many non-Chinese people would also benefit from this page.


In Chinese you have some expressions such as 太好 (So good! Extremely good! Great!) and 太美丽 (So beautiful! Extremely beautiful!) etc. Dictionaries tell us that ‘tai’, translates to the word, ‘too’ in English, which is true in some situations but not all

In English, when we say, “too + adjective” (such as, “too big", "too small", "too old", "too young” etc.) we are saying that there is a problem. This is saying something negative (‘negative connation’ i.e. negative meaning, previously explained).  

You can also think of this – “too” in English sometimes means “excessive” (过分的, 过度的, 度的 ). An excessive amount of anything is not good and leads to a problem.  (“Too” means “also” at other times. E.g., “I like that style of music, too.” But that is not the meaning of "too" being discussed here.)  

Some Examples of “too” Used to Express a Negative Meaning  

·        He eats too much. That’s why he’s so fat.

·        It’s too cold to go swimming.

·        She doesn’t want to marry him because he’s too poor (for her).” He’s actually not extremely poor but she wants to marry someone who is quite wealthy.

·        My parents are too strict with me. Even though I’m 20 years old, they won’t let me stay out after 10 pm.” A certain amount of parental strictness is of course, a good thing but even some good things can be overdone. The young woman who says that has a problem – she's not happy with her parents' strictness; she wants a bit more freedom to stay out until about 11.30.

·        This bed is too short for Yao Ming to sleep in.”  It’s a normal bed and people of average height, or even above average height can sleep in it, no problem. But there is a problem for Yao Ming, the famous Chinese basketball player, to sleep in that bed because he’s 229 cm. tall. He needs an especially made bed or a normal bed with an extension.

·        I was too tired to watch that movie last night. I went to bed at 9 pm.” The movie started at 10 pm but I had a problem – I couldn't stay awake until 10.

Furthermore, English speakers usually do not say, “too + good, or positive adjective” in English. Examples of “good or positive adjective” are – good, happy, healthy, beautiful, pretty, handsome, helpful, useful, convenient, nice, friendly, loving, caring, delicious, interesting . . .  Why do English speakers normally not say, “too good” or “too beautiful” and things like that? Simply because you cannot have an excessive amount of something that is good (positive).  

However, there are a few exceptions to that rule. For example, “I can’t marry him. He’s too handsome and women will be throwing themselves at him all the time. I’d rather marry an average-looking man.” Or, “I think he was a little too friendly towards us today. I suspect he might be trying to cheat us.”

So, as an example, if you want to praise what your government has done about the corona virus, instead of saying, "The government has done too many things to combat the corona virus", you should just say:

If you say, ""The government has done too many things to combat the corona virus", you are really saying that you think the government has done an excessive amount (or number) of things, which is a criticism.