What is the difference between `too’ and `very’?

If someone were to say to you, `You are very short’, he is merely stating a fact. He is telling you that you are rather short. Perhaps you are only five feet tall. He is not comparing you with anyone or anything.

If he says, `You are too short’, it suggests that you are shorter than necessary for something. Perhaps what the person is trying to tell you is that you are too short to play basketball. You may be five feet ten inches, but you are not tall enough to play basketball. You do not have the adequate height to play the game. The word `too’ carries with it the meaning `more than enough’, `more than wanted’ and `more than necessary’. After an interview, if you were to say, `The questions were very difficult’, what you mean is that the questions were extremely hard, but perhaps you did manage to answer them. On the other hand, if you were to say, `The questions were too difficult’, what you mean is that the questions were so difficult that you couldn’t answer them.

*Though it was very hot, the kids played cricket all day long. *It was too hot to play cricket. The kids stayed home and watched TV.

*Your daughter is very intelligent. She will do well in the exam. *Your son is too intelligent for this class. I think he needs to be moved up.

Sourced from The Hindu ‘Know Your English’ Series, October 31, 2005.

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