Confusing words: so, such

In this post we’ll look at so and such, two more words that often cause problems for students of English.

We’ll see a simple rule that tells us whether we need so or such in a sentence. You can then test yourself with the quick exercise below.

Meaning

So and such both show an extreme state:

  • He’s so tall.
  • It’s so cold today.
  • It’s such a big country.
  • She’s such a nice lady.

Rule

Here’s the simple rule:

We use so if we follow with just an adjective or adverb.
We use such if we follow with a noun.

Here are some examples to illustrate the rule:

  • Chinese is so difficult to learn. [‘so’ + adjective]
  • He always drives so quickly. [‘so’ + adverb]
  • Chinese is such a difficult language to learn.
    [Here we used ‘such’ because we followed with a noun, ‘language’.]
  • The weather is so nice today.
    [The noun ‘weather’ comes at the start of the sentence. We therefore used ‘so’.]
  • It’s such nice weather today.
    [Here we used ‘such’ because the noun ‘weather’ comes later in the sentence.]

! Compare the following two sentences, which mean the same:

  • The room was so cold that I had to put my coat on.
  • It was such a cold room that I had to put my coat on.

So … that / such … that

When we want to express that the extreme thing or situation has a consequence, we can say
so … that
and
such … that.

The structures are as follows:

so + adjective + that
so + adverb + that
such + adjective + noun + that

Here are some examples:

  • He’s so tall that he can’t find clothes to fit him.
    [He’s extremely tall; the consequence is that he can’t find clothes to fit him.]
  • It was so cold that I needed three sweaters and a jacket.
    [The consequence of the cold is that he needed three sweaters.]
  • It’s such a big country that it takes the train three days to cross it.
    [The consequence of the extreme distance is that the journey takes a long time.]

So many / so much / so few / so little

We can also use so with many, much, few and little:

  • There were so many people in the shopping centre. It was horrible.
  • He’s got so much money.
  • There are so few teachers in the area that the school has to employ unqualified people.
  • I had so little time for lunch that I only managed to finish the soup before I had to leave.

Now try this quick quiz to see how well you can use ‘so’ and ‘such’:

questions go herescoregoes here


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See more: Confusing Words

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. See all posts by Stuart

6 Comments

  1. Ana - May 12, 2012, 10:37 am Reply

    It’s such a great lesson!

  2. Yaqut - October 9, 2012, 8:23 am Reply

    Great thanks for such an excellent explanation.

  3. Vickie - February 17, 2013, 10:02 pm Reply

    Thank you for this website, it helps me a lot 😉

  4. mahes - January 12, 2014, 12:44 pm Reply

    hi Stuart, please explain me the importance of using SO and SUCH, for an example It’s a big country and It’s such a big country here what is the necessity of using ‘such’

    • Stuart Cook - January 21, 2014, 8:02 am Reply

      Hi, Mahes

      We use so and such to express a high degree of something, just as we sometimes use very. So, instead of just saying It was cold, we can say It was very cold or It was so cold that . . .

      Note the use of that after so and such:
      so . . . that and such . . . that.

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