|The tricky points
and use of the word so
It's a fact of language that sometimes it is the
words that cause the greatest problems for learners. Perhaps that's not
surprising. Many words are short, because
they are common; like is
As essential common words, they've evolved for centuries, and their
shortness has helped them to survive. They may not always be easy to
use, but they are easy to remember. Many short words have several
different meanings, sometimes very different meanings. "So
" is a
very good example of this.
The word So
has five common uses in English. Very simply, we could
these by describing the five different functions in a few words
Now, let's look more closely at each of these,.
- So expresses
with the general meaning of therefore
- So expresses
with the meaning of in
- So expresses
with the general meaning of and
- So expresses
it is an intensifier with a meaning similar to very
with a general meaning of "it
is true" or "it
is the case".
So expressing consequence.
In this case so
is a conjunctive
adverb expressing a consequence.
(Some grammar books consider it to be a coordinating conjunction)
This is the
fundamental meaning of so
as a connector. The coordinated clause of consequence must follow the
In example A1 below, you might imagine that there could be an
ambiguity between consequence and purpose; but this is not ambiguous
for English-speakers. A so
clause following a main clause must imply consequence unless it refers
to future time. (Compare with example B1 below).
- I took my umbrella with me, so I didn't get wet.
(To express purpose with the same words, we would need to invert the
I didn't get wet, I took my umbrella. This can only imply
- It was raining, so we stayed at home
- The pilots are all on strike, so there are no
- They both have good jobs, so they have plenty
So expressing purpose
In this case, so
is a subordinating
conjunction, expressing a purpose. It can either be used
alone, or else in the expression so that.
The subordinate clause of purpose can either preceed or follow the main
that is usually preferred if the subordinate clause of
purpose comes before
the main clause.
as is used to express purpose, particularly in spoken
English. In this case the verb in the secondary clause is in the infinitive with to (example B6).
- To express purpose, so that is
more commonly used than just so
by itself (essentially to avoid ambiguity between purpose and
by itself, is mostly used to introduce clauses of purpose when they
refer to future time,
or relative future time
(examples B1 and B5), as in these cases the meaning of so cannot be
ambiguous. It must
mean purpose, not consequence. Compare examples A1 (consequence) and B1
- I took my umbrella with me, so I wouldn't get
also say: So I
wouldn't get wet, I took my umbrella)
- So that you understand this, I'm making it as
clear as possible.
- So you understand me, I'm being as clear as
- I'm being as clear as possible, so you
- I took the fast train, so I'd get home early.
- I'm taking the small roads so as to avoid the
traffic on the motorway.
As a general rule, so
that is much more common than in order
that (except in formal written language), and to
order to are generally preferable to so as to (except in
informal spoken language). See Styles
So expressing addition
In this case, so
is again a conjunctive
adverb. It expresses an additional or a duplicate action. In
this case, so
introduces the second clause (unless there is a conjunction), and the
verb and the subject of this clause are inverted.
- I once lived in Bombay, so did my boss.
- He says he's got the answer, but so does everyone else.
- This computer has broken down, and so has that one.
So expressing a degree
does not quite mean the same as very;
it is an intensifier, an adverb
of degree qualifying an adjective, and expressing relative high
degree, or a perception of high degree.
It is often used to qualify an adjective in a statement of
Unlike other intensifiers (very,
quite, etc) so
it not usually used with attributive adjectives (adjectives that
preceed the noun), but only with predicative adjectives. These children are so good
is acceptable; these so
good children would not normally be considered as
acceptable, even if so
is sometimes used in this way. It is more normal to say These are such good children.
See ► Uses of such.
- This ice-cream is so good. (meaning extremely good in my opinion)
- This ice-cream is ever so good.
- The computer is so old that it breaks down
twice a week.
- This computer is so old; let's get a new one.
- You'd work better if you didn't talk so much.
- I'd buy more of these, if they weren't so
So expressing agreement or confirmation
can have the meaning of "that"
or "it is true"
or "that that is true".
In this sense it a substitute
word, a pro-form but not really a pronoun, as it refers back
to a whole statement, not to a noun. (To refer back to a noun, we would
use the pronoun it
It confirms - often strongly - a statement that has already been made,
or in some cases implied. It can be used in dialogue to confirm the
answer to a question.
- He was very angry, and he told me so.
- I'm going to London next week, or at least I
- You shouldn't really stop work before six, but
you can do so today.
- "Do we have enough money?" /
"I think so"
- "Will they ever know what really happened ?" /
"I don't think so."
- "You told the judge that you had forgotten?"
/ "That is so."
- "You were in London last night, weren't you?" /
- So you've finished at last, have you?
Some other functions of so
is used in a number of idiomatic phrases, such as "so and so", "and so
on" or "so-so" . Here are some examples with explanations.
- So and so said you were coming. (meaning an unspecified person).
- ...... and so on. (meaning... and more of the same)
- I'm feeling so-so today. (meaning not too bad, not too good).
- So! That's the answer. (The initial
expresses surprise or another emotion)..
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