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I got this question from the Cambridge website.

His eyes were ...... bad that he couldn't read the number plate of the car in front.

  1. such

  2. too

  3. so

  4. very

I answered too, but the answer was so. Can anybody explain why please?

As far as I know too and so have the same meaning and the only difference is too can be used in negative.

too+ adjective / adverb (no noun)

so+ adjective / adverb (no noun)

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    You don't use too with a that clause. Too is used when followed by a to-infinitive. For example, he is too young to understand this.
    – Rose
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 10:25
  • @Rose why is "such" wrong?
    – Cardinal
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 11:18
  • 3
    such is correct when followed by a noun: He had such bad eyes that .. .
    – Rose
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 11:32
  • "Such" is used before a noun or noun phrase and indicates similarity. Basically, you can think of it as "so much like". Example: "He had such bad eyesight that...". "Too" is used in front of adjectives or adverbs to indicate excess in relation to something of comparison. Example "His eyes were too bad to read...". "So" is like "too", but is used to indicate "enough" of an adjective/adverb to make something true. Example "His eyes were so bad that he couldn't read...". "Very" just means in excess, without any accompanying clauses. Example "His eyes were very bad".
    – Jemenake
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 21:55

2 Answers 2

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too = excessively

so = to such a degree

We serve only the freshest bread to our customers. This bread is too stale to be served.

It has gone beyond or exceeded a certain degree of staleness.

The bread was so stale that it was like a rock.

It has reached a certain degree of staleness.

too {modifier} to ...

so {modifier} that ...

The complement of too {modifier} states something that is impossible because of the excessive degree:

The price of the house was too good to be true.

The complement of so {modifier} states something that correlates with the degree:

The price was so good (that) we bought the house immediately.

Does the following fact correlate with having bad eyesight?

he could not read the small print.

Yes, it correlates. Being unable to read small print is hardly impossible when your eyesight grows worse; it is what actually happens.

His eyesight was __so__ bad, that he could not read the small print.

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  • Alternative, with "too": "His eyesight was too bad to read the small print". Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 18:11
  • Right. to read the small print is an impossibility if your eyesight is too bad for it. That he could not read the small print is a correlative of his eyesight being so bad.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 19:00
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If you have a particular quality to such a great extent that something isn't possible, you can express this idea by using either so or too, but the structure of the sentence in both cases will be different as follows:

So + adjective + that clause in the negative.

Too + adjective + to infinitive (without using a negative word)

So the correct sentences are:

His eyes were so bad that he couldn't read the number plate....

His eyes were too bad to read the number plate.

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  • "Too + adjective + to infinitive (without using a negative word)" - except for examples like "The XYZ bank was too small not to fail". (The opposite of the original meme "too big to fail").
    – alephzero
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 14:00

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