Your performance in this exam was only too bad.
Your performance in this exam was too bad.
Your performance in this exam was very bad.

I want to know when can we use these sentences and is there any one among this which shows speaker's emphasis on bad ( exam)

  • It's a "use / mention" distinction, which could be indicated typographically using scare quotes, italics, etc. In speech you could emphasis too bad to convey this, or go for "air quotes" (raising one/two fingers on each hand as you say the words). Oct 17, 2016 at 12:36
  • I can't think of a case when you would use only too in English. In the example cited in the question, I can't work out what the phrase "was only too bad" is trying to convey - does it mean that it was only slightly bad, or does it mean that it was too bad?
    – Mark Bannister
    Oct 17, 2016 at 13:11
  • Not an answer, but please note that too bad is also used idiomatically for that's a shame, but don't worry about it, as in you missed the bus? Too bad! There'll be another one. I once made the mistake of saying too bad to a colleague who was subsequently upset because I was so harsh... In short, your first sentence is ambiguous, your second can be interpreted as "it's a pity you did this exam, but don't worry about it". Your third sentence seems to clearly communicate your intention.
    – oerkelens
    Oct 17, 2016 at 15:00

1 Answer 1


"very" and "too" are both terms that add weight to the thing they are modifying, but "too" also connotes that the added weight is to excess. "only too" is an idiom, the meaning of which depends on the context.

In positive declarations, the "only too" idiom is closer to the meaning of "very" than to "too". It does not connote an actual excess of something, but rather employs exaggeration as a device to give emphasis. For example, "I would be only too willing to help" expresses that the speaker would be very willing to help, their willingness emphasized by the suggestion that their willingness might even border on the extreme.

In negative declarations, the "only too" idiom may also mean "very", but can mean "too" as well, adding a sense of wrongness. For example, "his death came only too soon" expresses not only that the death came too early, but that it shouldn't have happened so early.

See "only too" in macmillandictionary.com

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