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The following sentence is from the BBC web site Trapped

That effort too came to nothing.

We were taught in English classes that too can be used in positive sentences, and either in negative sentences.

So, why was "too" used in this negative sentence?

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    It should be noted that "positive" in this sense refers to sentences that affirm or confirm something, while "negative" refers to a denial. It has nothing to do with whether the sentence is saying good, happy things or not. As an example, "I hate you too." is a valid and normal sentence.
    – windblade
    Oct 29 at 21:27
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    Side note: Changing That effort too came to nothing. into That effort, too, came to nothing. looks better to me. That's to indicate a slight pause around "too" when speaking. But, changing too to also, the sentence pronunciation seems correct to me either way (with or without the pause) with slightly different emphasis in each case. I would usually prefer also over too in this context. Oct 31 at 18:44

5 Answers 5

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(Converted my comment to an answer, since it has been upvoted.)

Came to nothing has a negative meaning but it isn't grammatically negative. A negative sentence would be 'That effort did not come to anything either', though in my opinion it doesn't sound as good.

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    Interesting. Would you say "President X failed to get reelected" was a positive (not a negative) sentence? So: "GHW Bush failed to get reelected in 1992, President Trump failed too in 2020". I guess the key distinction to draw is that the sentence is *linguistically positive.
    – smci
    Oct 30 at 16:53
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    @smci - Thay is what I was trying to convey. Oct 31 at 7:47
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    @smci The grammatical positive/negative distinction isn't about a moral or value judgement, it is about whether the verb is negated or not. Four quick examples: "Alice did get hired. Bob didn't get hired. Chad did get fired. Dan didn't get fired." Examples A and C are positive "did" examples, whereas B and D are negative "didn't" examples... even though we might all agree that the situations described in A/D are "good" compared to the "bad" B/C situations. Oct 31 at 14:18
  • @AmateurDotCounter: yes I already understood that and that was exactly what I was saying. I was saying it was worth spelling out very explicitly in the answer, more than it currently is.
    – smci
    Oct 31 at 15:43
  • @KateBunting: Right, we agree. I was saying this subtle point is worth spelling out very explicitly in the answer, more than it currently is.
    – smci
    Oct 31 at 16:04
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Yes, you're right.

We do not usually use also, as well and too in negative sentences. We use not...either in negative sentences.

Positive: I like you too. Negative: I do not like you either.

Positive: I like you as well. Negative: I do not like you either.

Positive: That effort too came to nothing.

Negative: That effort did not come to anything either.

Nothing is used in positive statements. Anything is used in negative statements.

When we use negative words such as nobody, or nothing, we do not use a negative verb.

He says nothing or He does not say anything (NOT 'He does not say nothing')

'That effort too came to nothing' is stronger and more definite than 'That effort did not come to anything either'.

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    In other words, the negativity of a sentence is based on the presence of the core auxiliary "not" (and its contracted forms like "didn't" etc), but not all words with a negative meaning like "nothing". Oct 30 at 5:49
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    Following up on the last comment, it really is the structure "not [verb] anything" that tells you you have a negative statement. The word "anything" by itself can also be used in positive statements: "I would do anything for love." "I too would do anything for love."
    – David K
    Oct 30 at 15:41
  • @David K "... but I wouldn't do that." "I wouldn't do that either." Oct 31 at 6:57
  • One of the problems with this answer is that it is a bit vague about what a "negative sentence" is. For instance, I do not like it, but I don't dislike it either. I'm neutral. How would that be analyzed? And what exactly it the "negative verb"? He stays silent about nothing is reasonable enough.
    – MSalters
    Oct 31 at 12:03
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Yes, 'too' in that context means 'also' or 'as well'.

The 'too' referred to 'that effort': "That effort also came to nothing".

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The key point is that grammar cares naught for feelings.

Grammatically, a sentence either uses negation or it doesn't, and based on that one uses either too or either:

  • That effort too came to nothing: no negation, so we use too and nothing.
  • That effort did not come to anything either: negation, so we use either and anything.

Both sentences convey similar (negative) feelings, which grammar doesn't care about in any way.

Another example would be: I like you too <=> I do not hate you either. Both convey positive feelings, and can use either too or either.

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  • I think this is more clearly stated as "linguistically positive", even if it wouldn't be considered "semantically positive". Per my answer.
    – smci
    Oct 31 at 16:47
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Yes, but "syntactically positive" not "semantically positive"; so the OP's sentence is actually syntactically not negative:

To clarify this nuance, per @KateBunting's answer, the following example can use "too" since it is "syntactically positive", i.e. the verb isn't negated:

  • "In 1980, President Carter failed to get reelected, mainly due to a recession. In 1992, President GHW Bush failed too, and for the same reason."

"X failed to do Y" is "syntactically positive", even if we wouldn't consider it "semantically positive" for X's political fortunes.

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    "Grammatically" or "syntactically" positive or negative would be a more accurate term. Linguistics is a broad field that includes semantics and pragmatics as well as syntax, so "linguistically" could encompass any of those levels. Nov 1 at 16:45
  • @JohnVelonis: ok, "syntactically"
    – smci
    Nov 2 at 3:50

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