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Like the native speakers here on ELL, I have a respected guru-cum-friend for English. He is very proficient in the language. While discussing my question 'I am too tired to drive', he stopped me even before I could finish it. The very first thing he said was that the adverb 'too' has a negative note.

This was indeed a jaw-dropping surprise to me as I have used 'too good', 'too innocent', 'too beautiful' and such constructions zillions of times in my life.

But then, when I searched COCA, the surprise turned into shock as I observed that most of entries of 'too' had some negation one or the other way.

As always, I find this as the best place to have more clarity on this. I trust him as much as I trust you all! :)

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Too is not automatically negative. It simply means that something is in excess of a (likely unspecified) threshold. Examples with no negative subtext:

Planet of the Apes is too good to miss.

His artwork is too beautiful to be described.

There is too much chocolate in that cake for me not to like it.

Those chips are too good to eat just one.

Wonderful, good, positive things are inevitable. This plan is too far along for it to turn out otherwise.

In all cases, too is used to indicate that the level of some good thing is sufficiently high that some result is inevitable.

  • Exactly... check your all examples, the word plays a crucial role in making negative notes. – Maulik V Dec 31 '14 at 5:49
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    I am not picking up the theme of negative notes. What is negative in "too beautiful to be described" ? – Adam Dec 31 '14 at 5:50
  • Indeed the artwork is beautiful but then, to show the 'limitations', we put 'too'. – Maulik V Dec 31 '14 at 5:55
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    If there is a negative note about 'His artwork is too beautiful to be described', it is about me and not about the artwork. The artwork is perfect; my ability to describe it is limited. We could also say 'His artwork is so beautiful that I cannot describe it'. – Sydney Dec 31 '14 at 7:01
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    Dictionary.com has five definitions for 'too': "1) in addition ... 'young, clever, and rich too' [positive], 2. to an excessive extent or degree ... 'too sick to travel' [negative] 3. more ... than should be: too near the fire [negative] 4. (used as an affirmative to contradict a negative statement) 'I am too!' [?negative in the sense that it is contradicting a (negative) statement] 5. extremely 'She wasn't too pleased with his behavior' (negative in this sentence - I don't think we can say 'She was too pleased with his behavior'. There is also 'only too' as in 'I am only too glad to help'. – Sydney Jan 2 '15 at 8:50
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The negative aspect is only there if you perceive an excess of anything to be negative.

"She as too many virtues to mention in the brief time I have to speak."

doesn't seem negative to me. It's just a statement that there are so many virtues to talk about that I won't be able to give you a complete list in the time I have available. On the other hand,

"She was too nice to be genuine."

is indicating that an excess of something good (being nice) was perceived in a negative way (pretending to be a nice person). I don't think that "too" is inherently negative though - it just means "in excess" which can be good, bad, or neutral depending upon your philosophy.

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