Is It “What Are You Up To” or “What Are You Up Too”?

Homophones can make the English language incredibly confusing, where one word sounds the same, but you can spell them differently and mean something completely different. For example, what is the correct way to use “What are you up to” or “What are you up too”? 

“What are you up to?” is the right way to use this idiom. “Too” is incorrect because it refers to “as well” or “additionally,” while “to” refers to a sequence of space and is therefore correct. English speakers frequently use this idiom to ask what someone is doing.

You can also ask, “What, are you up, too?”, which could be used to indicate surprise that someone is awake, standing up, or is next in some circumstance, but is rarely used in practice.

We will go through the basics of when and how to use both “to” and “too” correctly. Read on so that, by the time you finish reading, you will be an expert too.

Meaning of “What are You Up To?” and Usage

“What are you up to?” means “what are you doing?” This is a question that one person would ask another individual or a group of people, and it can have different connotations based on tone. The phrase is an idiom.

An idiom is a term used to express figurative non-literal meaning to a phrase or sentence and is attached to the word. It can also have a figurative, literal sense.

When we look deeper into the phrase “What are you up to?” you can find literal and non-literal, figurative meanings. 

  1. Literally asking a question of the subject —  “What are you doing?”
  2. The non-literal meaning could be a greeting or expressing an idea. —  “How are you doing?”
  3. To express suspicion — “What are you up to?!”

The tone is also important when dealing with idioms as this can change the expression from a harmless question “what are you up to?” to one that comes off as an accusation of wrongdoing, “What are you up to?!”

How to Use “To”

“To” is a versatile word used as a preposition, an adverb, or as part of an infinitive verb form, allowing it to precede both verbs and nouns (source).

You can use “to” to indicate a goal, the direction of movement, or describe the place of arrival. “To” can also show a relationship between words, such as possession, addition, and attachment. It can also indicate time or range.

The Preposition “To”

In the book written by Andrew Bruckfield, Prepositions: The Ultimate Book – Mastering English Prepositions, a preposition is a part of speech in English that indicates relationships and connections between nouns and pronouns. It can also show the past tense (source). 

A preposition is a word that expresses a relation to another word or element in a sentence that often precedes a noun or pronoun.

The simple way to understand “to” is that it indicates a direction of movement, a place of arrival, or a common goal when used as a preposition:

  • He went to the park.
  • John went to the store at 10 o’clock.
  • I went to the shops.

In the first example, the prepositional phrase “to the park” tells use where “he” went. In the second example, the phrase “to the store” indicates where “John” went, while the adverb “10 o’clock” adds at what time.

Each of these examples shows how we join nouns using the preposition “to” as a way to show movement and direction.

The Preposition “Up To”

But what about “up to” as used in the phrase “What are you up to?” Does “up to” function as a preposition? The combination “up to” does normally serve as a preposition, and it has two forms of use. 

One form explains the extension of a specific place, meaning “as far as”:

  • She was up to her waist in water.

The other form of use is to indicate a maximum amount, limit, or boundary:

  • He put off doing his homework up to the last minute.

However, the particular idiom we’re concerned with uses “up to” in the place of a verb, not as a preposition.

Image by sebagee via Pixabay

How to Use “Too”

An adverb is a modifier that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb and commonly ends in -ly. Adverbs express how or in what way something is done.

“Too” is an adverb that has two forms of use, so it is not as flexible as “to,” which can also serve as an adverb. We can use “too” to describe excessiveness or as a way to say “in addition” or “also.”

  • Mom and I go to the shop too.

In this sentence, we use both “to” and “too.” “To” is a preposition indicating where we are going, while the “too” means “as well” or “in addition.”

The other way we often use  “too” is to indicate excessiveness or an exaggeration as adverbs would normally suggest:

  • The food was way too hot.

Here, “too” indicates that the food was hotter than it should have been. It also exaggerates the temperature of the food, which helps display the emotion of the author. 

As an adverb, “to” often modifies the verb “came,” or you can bring someone “to” as in a state of consciousness.  

  • After being unconscious, she finally came to.
  • We traveled to and fro.

We also use “to” as an adverb in the second example, not specifying where they traveled. This is an idiom that expresses the idea that we traveled to various places.

Using “What, are You Up, Too?”

When we use the word “too” in this phrase, we are most often asking the rhetorical question of whether someone else is awake (up) as well, suggesting they cannot sleep.

The use of this sentence is not nearly as common as “What are you up to?” because of this highly specific context.

Another possible meaning for this phrase would be if it was your turn at something, and then you discover that it’s someone else’s turn as well. In other words, you are both “up,” as in ready to go, at the same time.

In written form, the difference will depend heavily on punctuation and spelling. The use of a comma indicates a break or pause in the sentence (source).

  • Wow! Are you up, too?
  • Wow, are you up, too?
  • What, are you up, too?
  • What! Are you up, too?

Here, the speaker uses “what” to express surprise more than to ask a question, so it functions much like an interjection.

Interjections are another way to express the author’s emotions as an abrupt remark, and we can alter the intensity of the expression by using either a comma or an exclamation point.

For more on common English phrases, make sure you read our articles on “much appreciated” and “with that being said.”

A good dictionary is always handy when learning a new language; take a look at the Oxford-New-Essential Dictionary available on Amazon.

Homophones

A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another but has a different meaning and spelling. Homophones can make the English language that much more challenging for those who wish to learn it as a second language.

For example, “to,” “too,” and “two” are homophones, which are quite fun to play with when writing, and we will give you a few examples on how to use them:

  • Sean and Tarryn went to the shop, and they bought two meals and dessert too.
  • Donovan went to the store, and he bought a shirt and a pair of pants too.

“Two” is a number, referring to the amount of something, “to” indicates an infinitive marker or preposition, and “too” is an adverb that can mean excessively or also. For this article’s purposes, we will focus on the uses of “to” and “too.”

How Can Synonyms Help You?

Twins, Girls, Girl, Aor, Love, Dool, Doll, Goldenhour
Image by 5311692 via Pixabay

A synonym is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language.

When writing English, and you are unsure what form of “to” or “too” to use, you can use these synonyms to help you make the correct choice. You can find more examples in a thesaurus such as the Merriam-Webster Online Thesaurus (source).

ToToo
Directed towards, facing, into, through, toward, and via. Excessively, overly, immoderately, inordinately, unreasonably, ridiculously, too great an extent/degree, extremely, very, also, as well, in addition, additionally, besides, furthermore, plus, and again. 

Final Thoughts

When English speakers use the phrase “What are you up to?” they are asking what someone is doing. The person’s tone often determines if they are literally asking what you are doing or just wondering how you have been in general.

A more serious tone often indicates that you are suspicious of some action they are taking, so be very careful of your tone when using this phrase.

The phrase “What, are you up, too?” expresses surprise that someone has been unable to sleep or that it is their turn at something. In written form, this requires an exclamation point or commas to indicate the pause for an interjection.

When deciding between using “to” or “too,” the easy way to make sure you’re using the correct word is to use the synonym as a baseline to follow. 

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