English language Uncategorized

Is “too” an also-ran?

Q: I’m often confused about whether to use “also” or “too” in a sentence, and exactly where to put it. Should I write “Include Jim in the email too,” or “Also include Jim in the email,” or “Include Jim too in the email,” or whatever?

A: I can see why you’re confused. These two little words can be confusing in the best of circumstances.

Traditionally, the terms “also” and “too” – meaning “in addition” or “besides” – are adverbs (words that modify or describe verbs).

Some usage or style guides are critical of placing them at the beginning of a sentence, but Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage finds nothing wrong with the practice.

My ear objects to beginning a sentence with “too.” But if it sounds OK to you, go ahead and do it. As Merriam-Webster’s puts it, “the best guide in matters such as this is your own sense of idiom.”

My only concern with using “also” and “too” is the potential for ambiguity. What exactly does the following sentence mean? I also emailed Jim.

Does it mean that I sent an email to Jim in addition to other people? Or does it mean that I, in addition to other people, sent an email to Jim?

In speech, we usually emphasize the words “also” and “too” to clarify our meaning. But in writing we have to be more precise when using these words.

So, think of what you want to say and then make sure you’re saying it, either by putting “also” or “too” in the most logical place, or by adding a few extra words. I’m sorry that I can’t give you a more definitive answer.

As for your examples, all three are clear enough, but the third one sounds clunky to me. This is a matter of taste, though, so let your own ear be the judge.

On a related issue, some language experts object to using “also” as a conjunction (or linking word) in place of “and.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) describes the usage as a regionalism and gives this example: “It’s a pretty cat, also friendly.”

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