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How to use "so" and "such" in English: Rules and common word combinations (includes AUDIO+IMAGES)

Updated: Sep 30



Recommended level: Intermediate


Quick reference

  • "So" and "such" are most often used as intensifiers.

  • "So" is stronger than "very."

  • "So" is used to intensify adjectives and adverbs. It means "to a great extent or degree," or "to an indicated extent or degree."

  • Example: "She's so honest."

  • "Such" is used to intensify nouns and noun phrases. It means "of such a great extent or degree" or "of the character or type indicated."

  • Example: "She's such an honest person."

  • "So" is used with the quantifiers "many," "much," "few," and "little."

  • Example: "There are so many people at this event!"

  • Use "So...that..." to show results.

  • Example: "I'm so hungry that I could eat a horse!"

  • Both words have other common word combinations, including "such as," "[a number] or so," "such a shame," "think so," and others.

Introduction

You might be tired of the using the word "very" to intensify adjectives and adverbs. For instance, you have probably used sentences like these before: "The film was very long"; "She speaks very quickly"; "That's very interesting." If you want to use other words and sentence constructions in these cases, "so" and "such" might be good options. Both of these words are used to intensify English sentences. By learning their structures, you can add variety to your speaking and writing, and understand more of what you read and hear.


Let's begin.


"So" + adjective

If you want to intensify an adjective, "so" is a useful alternative to "very." Both words signify a high degree of something. For example, a car can be very fast, a person can be very social, and wi-fi can be very reliable. However, "so" is even stronger than "very." Note the two examples, both of which are correct:


"Your parents are very generous." (Meaning, they are generous to a high degree.)

"Your parents are so generous." (Meaning, they are generous to an even higher degree.)


When it is used like this, "so" is more common in speaking than it is in writing, while "very" is frequently used in both. Note the following example, which is a formal description of a person:


"Kara lives in Detroit and goes to school at Ridgemont Academy. She is very studious."

"Kara lives in Detroit and goes to school at Ridgemont Academy. She is so studious."


The second example is more informal and has a stronger emotional component and personal opinion attached to it. For this reason, if you are using the construction above, try to avoid using "so" in formal situations. With some exceptions, you should use "so" in casual speaking situations instead. To emphasize this point, because it is a formal explanation, the third sentence in paragraph one above would sound strange if it said "a car can be so fast, a person can be so social, and wi-fi can be so reliable." When you are speaking, you can also lengthen the "O" in "so" to intensify it even more. For example, "It's sooooo hot outside today."


Finally, "so" does not only mean "to a great extent or degree." It can also mean "to the extent or degree that is indicated." Note the following two examples and explanations:


"Why is this so difficult?" (Why is this difficult to this degree? Or, why is this this difficult?)

"You need to stop being so lazy." (Your current level of laziness is not good for you.)


Here are some other examples of "so" with adjectives:


"I'm so tired. Can we go home now?"

"That show is so funny. Have you watched it?"

"That book is so old. I can't believe you have a first edition!"

"I'm so hungry right now. Your ice cream looks so delicious!"

"Why does he always seem so serious?"


Practice: Finish the sentence: "This room looks so __________."


"So" + adverb

This is the same idea and has the same guidelines as above, except instead of adjectives, we are intensifying adverbs. Let's go directly to the examples and explanations:


"They played so well!" (Meaning, they played very, very well.)

"How did you learn to play so well?" (Meaning, how did you learn to play at that level of proficiency?)

"Careful. You shouldn't drive so fast." (Meaning, you shouldn't drive this fast. This speed is dangerous. Note: "fast" can be either an adjective or an adverb.)

"He always walks so slow." (Meaning, he walks at an incredibly slow speed. Note: "slow" can also be either an adjective or an adverb.)

"I didn't know you could jump so high!" (Meaning, I didn't know you could jump to that particular height, or to such an impressive height.)

"That concert was so good!" (Meaning, that was an exceptionally good concert.)


Practice: Finish the sentence: "You do that so __________." (Examples: elegantly, smoothly, powerfully, lightly, well, poorly, etc.)


"So" + "many," "much," "little," and "few"

"So" is commonly used with these quantifiers to intensify the amount or the lack of something. Remember, "many" and "few" are used with countable nouns, such as books and tables, and "much" and "little" are used with uncountable nouns, such as water and energy. Let's take a look at some examples:


"Why are there so many people here?" (Meaning, there are a lot of people here. Why are there this many here?)

"There's so much I want to tell you." (Meaning, I want to tell you a lot.)

"You ate so little. Weren't you hungry?" (Meaning, you didn't eat a lot, or you didn't eat much.)

"I've never seen so few birds in this park." (Meaning, there aren't many birds. There are fewer than usual.)

"There are so many great English learning sites these days." (Meaning, there are a lot of great English learning sites.)

"Why did you give me so little?" (Meaning, why did you give me an amount this small?)

"I feel so much better!" (Meaning, I feel much, much better. In this case, "so much" is modifying a comparative adjective. You can do this with any comparative adjective, such as "so much faster," "so much more interesting," or "so much happier.")


Practice: Finish the sentences with your own ideas:


"There are so many..."

"There is so much..."

"There are so few..."

"There is so little..."


"So...that..."

Use this structure to show a result. For example, "I was so tired that I fell asleep while watching the movie." This means my level of fatigue was very high, and the result was my falling sleep. Here are some other examples:


"The store was so busy that I decided to leave and come back on another day."

"In the winter, it gets so cold in this house that the water pipes freeze."

"I was so excited that I couldn't stop smiling."

"We've been there so many times that we can name all the streets by heart." (Meaning, by instinctive memory)

"The smell from the bathroom was so strong that people started leaving the restaurant."

"That book was so good that I read it twice."


Practice: Finish the sentence: "I was so hungry that..."


"Such" + nouns and noun phrases

Often, "such" can be a replacement for "so" to intensify a phrase, but the structure of the sentence changes. Note the examples:


"She's so kind."

"She's such a kind person."


"That game was so exciting!"

"That was such an exciting game!"


"I've never seen someone so brave."

"I've never seen such bravery."


This doesn't always work, however. For example, while it's common to say "I'm so happy for you," and "I'm so tired," it sounds a little strange to say "I'm such a happy person for you," and "I'm such a tired person." You must use your discretion in these cases. For now, become comfortable with the sentences in this article.


Also, remember that "such" modifies nouns and noun phrases. However, it is important to note that when "such" modifies a noun, the usage is often more formal. Note the examples:


"I've never heard such lies." (Meaning, lies of that quality or character)

"Thank you for your assistance. Such selflessness must be rewarded." (Selflessness is the opposite of selfishness.)

"She has been treated with such disrespect by her employees." (Meaning, "with so much disrespect")


In casual speech, it is more common to hear "such" followed by a noun phrase. Remember, noun phrases don't only have nouns. They often include adjectives as well. Note the examples, and do the practice question:


"I had such a good time!" (Meaning, I had a very, very good time.)

"He's such a jerk." (Meaning, he's not a nice person at all.)

"Stop being such a clown." (Meaning, stop acting foolish.)

"I've never driven such an expensive car." (Meaning, I've never driven a car this expensive.)

"It's such a beautiful day." (Meaning, it's a very, very beautiful day.)

"You're always such a cheapskate." (Meaning, a person who doesn't like to spend money)


Practice: Finish the sentence: "He's such a/an..."


Other uses and common phrases

To finish, here are some other common uses and phrases with "so" and "such."


"or so" (around the stated amount, time, etc.)

"It costs 10 dollars or so." (It costs around 10 dollars.)

"What time is it?" "It's 8:30 or so." (It's around 8:30.)

"I'll be there in 20 minutes or so." (I'll be there in around 20 minutes.)


"such as" (a particular kind; similar to; like)

"I love all kinds of sports, such as basketball, swimming, and badminton."

"You need to show them a form of ID, such as a driver's license."

"Adjectives such as 'larger,' 'smaller,' and 'cleaner' are called comparative adjectives."


common phrases

"That's such a shame!" (That's unfortunate. Also: "That's too bad!")

"I think so."

"He's such a pain." (He's a difficult and/or annoying person.)

"This is so much more than I expected."

"You've come such a long way!" (You have traveled far, or you have made significant progress.)

"There are so many more reasons than you know."

"You're so lucky!"

"I'm so sorry!"

"It was such an inconvenience."

"Don't say such things."

"That album had such an impact on the pop music industry."

"It was such a shock." / "It was so shocking."

"You're such an idiot / a dork / a nerd / a fool / a jerk."

"Such as?" (Like what? Example: "There are many things you need to apologize for." "Such as?")

"That's so nice/kind/generous of you!"

"That's so nice/kind of you to say."

"Such is life." ("That's life," or "Life is like that.")


I hope you have found this page useful. To continue practicing, or to let me know what you thought of this information, leave a comment. Until next time, thanks for reading, and I wish you success in your studies.

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