The English language is full of homonyms. Teachers and children spend a lot of time wrestling with those homonyms. Some have fun wrestling; some homonyms are used in puns, riddles, and jokes. Eventually, children develop the ablility to tell words apart. “You,” “ewe,” and “yew,” though a triple homonym, don’t really present great problems; “you” is the common one, and the other two don’t need to be used much. The same with “use,” “yews,” and “ewes;” “use” is usually the one to use.
But then along come “The Terrible Toos and Theres.” There are six ways to spell these words, and at least ten meanings. “To” can refer to direction, and “there,” to location, but both can also have meanings that are hard to define or explain. I usually presented the seven meanings that were easy to present, and told children to use “there” or “to” when they wanted to use either word for any but those seven meanings I’d taught them. Unlike what I do with many of the concepts I teach, I was trying to get children to just do it right; they didn’t have to understand it. There may not be any way to explain to children what “there” and “to” mean in the sentence you’re reading right now. In fact, the first “to” is part of an infinitive verb, and the second is a preposition with an object – “children.” Try explaining THAT to a young child.
“Too” can mean “also,” or can refer to excessive amount or degree, as in “too hot.” That can still confuse children, but at least there are only two possible meanings, and both are relatively easy to explain. And the other three spellings, “their,” “they’re,” and “two,” are nice and specific. Each has only one meaning, and that one meaning is relatively easily defined and taught.
People who are learning English as a first language and those who are learning it as a second language have trouble with these words, but so do lots of people who have been using English for a long time. You probably won’t see “there,” “their,” “they’re,” “to,” “too”, or “two” spelled wrong in any of my articles, but that’s because I read my articles over and over, and am constantly looking for, finding, and correcting mistakes. If you do find a mistake or two, it’s probably the publisher’s error, not mine. At least, I hope so.
We adults are apt to forget how difficult it was to learn some things. Or if it wasn’t difficult for us, we can have trouble imagining how it could be difficult for
anyone. I didn’t have much trouble learning The Terrible Toos and Theres, but I had lots of trouble teaching children which to use when. In fact, maybe if I’d had more trouble learning the words, I’d have less trouble teaching them. I never thought those words were so challenging. I guess there more of a challenge than I used too think.