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So at school I learned that "too ... to ..." means "something so ... that can't/shouldn't ..."

But I wonder if anyone would interpret it literally, like:

  • It's too complicated to understand.
  • It's so complicated to understand.
  • It's really complicated to understand.

... in which if you interpret them literally, they're all the same meaning. That being said, too is nothing more than a replaceable adverb.

I've seen this question and the answer was incorrect.

But to my own opinion, that would have been correct as well.

So my problem is, does anyone actually interpret that in this way? Or, rather, can I use it in this way?

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    There were two answers. Which one, in your opinion, was 'incorrect', and why? As stated, your three examples do not mean the same thing. The first says that something is so complicated that understanding it is impossible; the second and third say that something is so complicated that understanding it is difficult (but not necessarily impossible) to understand. Jan 21, 2023 at 10:16
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    NO! - if you interpret them literally, they're NOT all the same meaning! Jan 21, 2023 at 12:32

2 Answers 2

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They are not the same at all. Look:


It's too complicated to understand.

It means that it cannot be understood by anyone who tries. (Even if it's meant only figuratively.)

It instructs the recipient of this assertion that without simplifying the problem, there is no way to cope with it.


It's really complicated to understand.

It instructs the recipient that it's possible to cope with the challenge, but only at the cost of great invested effort.

As in: "You may try, but be ready to spend a lot of time on it."


It's so complicated to understand.

It's somewhat similar to the previous example with really, but it adds a very personal tone.

Like: "I find it very complicated", like, my personal perception.

The first two samples (too, really) are impersonal/objective enough to even be used in objective contexts, like in a piece of documentation, or educative material.

But this last one invokes so much on the side of personal perception that it is fit only for contexts where subjective interpretations are discussed, like when a student laments to their teacher, or when a blogger is inviting the sympathy of their readers.

Observe however this:

When so is used in a compound sentence, it has a totally different function (if I knew grammar, I could name it):

It's so complicated to understand, that even Einstein himself spent six months on it before he finally succeeded.

This again, is an objective expression.

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There is a difference in meaning between "too complicated" and "so/really complicated".

Literally, "too" means "excessively", not "so" or "really".

Calculus is really complicated for university students.

Calculus is too complicated for six-year-olds.

This is the literal meaning of "too".

Idiomatically the constructions like "so complicated to understand" are not used much.

"Too" is sometimes used figuratively to mean "very". This is rhetorical hyperbole, not the "literal" meaning

{student} Urgh, calculus is too complicated to understand!!

{parent} It's very complicated, but not too complicated. You need to study harder to learn it.

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