If you asked even the most knowledgeable Americans, they probably could not tell you more than a few meanings for the word “so.” It is an everyday word that most people use without even realizing its complexity.

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But this mysterious little word can act as an adverb, pronoun or conjunction, with many meanings as each. In all, there are more than 25 meanings for “so.” That’s one powerful word!

Today, we will tell you about three phrases that English learners have trouble with: “so” “so that” & “so adjective/adverb that.” We’ll discuss each one then compare them.


Let"s start with “so” as a coordinating conjunction – a word that joins two or more things, such as sentences or other words. When used in this way, it means "therefore" or "for that reason."

For this meaning, “so” joins two complete sentences và shows the result of something in the second sentence. Take a listen:

The apartment was too hot, so we opened the window.

The first sentence provides the kích hoạt or situation: The apartment was too hot. It is joined by “so” to lớn the second sentence which explains the resulting action: opening the window.

In order to…

OK, now we move lớn “so that,” a phrase that begins adverb clauses. You may recall that an adverb clause shows a relationship between two actions. It joins a main clause, or complete sentence, khổng lồ a dependent clause, or incomplete sentence, và shows how they relate.

“So that” means “in order to” which answers the question “Why?” We use it to lớn begin adverb clauses of purpose. Let’s hear an example:

It helps to lower blood sugar so that you feel less hungry.

The adverb clause is “so that you feel less hungry.” It shows the purpose for the kích hoạt in the main clause. Why does it help lớn lower blood sugar? khổng lồ feel less hungry.

“So that” can also come at the beginning of a sentence but this is rarer and usually sounds stilted to Americans. Listen:

So that you feel less hungry, it helps khổng lồ lower blood sugar.

One important note is that the word “that” is optional for “so that” in spoken English, so it may disappear. Here’s how that sounds:

It helps to lớn lower blood sugar so you feel less hungry.

But without “that,” how will you know that the meaning is “in order to”? One signal is that there is often a modal verb in the adverb clause. Modal verbs include can, could, may, might, will & others. Here’s how that might sound:

It helps to lower blood sugar so you can feel less hungry.

The modal verb in the adverb clause is “can.”


To the màn chơi described…

Finally, let’s discuss the phrasing “so adjective/adverb that.” This is different from both meanings we’ve talked about. Khổng lồ try to put it simply, it means “to the cấp độ described.” Here are some examples:

This morning, the construction was so loud that we could not sleep.

This means that the construction was loud to lớn a level that prevented us from sleeping.

In the phrase “so adjective/adverb that,” the word “that” begins a type of clause called a “complement clause," but we will not talk about that in today’s program.

What’s important today is knowing that the word “that” for this phrase is also optional & may disappear. Here’s how it sounds:

This morning, the construction was so loud we could not sleep.

So, how might you know the meaning if “that” disappears? Well, you can listen for an adjective after “so.” The adjective in our example is “loud.”

Comparing the three

Now, we’ll compare the three phrases. You will hear three sentences that sound similar but have different meanings:

He is funny, so his friends laugh at him.

The meaning here is: He is funny. Therefore, his friends laugh at him. Here’s the next one:

He makes jokes so that his friends will laugh.

This means: He makes jokes for the purpose of making his friends laugh. It answers the question, “Why does he make jokes?” Notice the modal “will” in the adverb clause.

Now for the last meaning:

He is so funny that his friends laugh at him.

It means: He is funny to such a level that it makes his friends laugh at him.

Now for one more set to lớn help you examine the meanings:

She studied hard, so she was able to lớn win a scholarship.

The meaning here is: She studied hard. Therefore, she was able lớn win a scholarship. And the next one:

She studied hard so that she could win a scholarship.

It means: She studied hard for the purpose of winning a scholarship. Again, you see a modal in the adverb clause: could. Và lastly:

She studied so hard that she won a scholarship.

This means: She studied hard to such a degree that she won a scholarship.

You probably noticed that some examples other than those with “so that” have modal verbs. All three of today’s phrases can have modals, but “so that” adverb clauses commonly have them.

Well, we’re so happy that you stayed around for today’s program. Don’t forget to bởi the practice so that you can remember what you learned!

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

phrasen. A word or group of words that express an idea but vì not usually form a complete sentence

clausen. A part of a sentence that has its own subject và verb

stiltedadj. Awkward especially because of being too formal

optionaladj. Available as a choice but not required

modal verbn. A verb that is usually used with another verb khổng lồ express ideas such as possibility, necessity và permission

scholarshipn. N amount of money that is given by a school or organization to a student to lớn help pay for the student"s education

practicev. To do something again và again in order to lớn become better at it



Now, you try it!

Rewrite each example with a "so" phrase from today’s program. If an example is two separate sentences, make it into one sentence.

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Example:I woke up early. For that reason, I went lớn the market. (so)I woke up early, so I went to the market.

We were having a great time. Therefore, we invited them to lớn our house for dinner. (so)

Meet me at the theater by 7pm to get good seats. (so that)

His eyes were very tired. He could not read the words on the page. (so adjective that)

We took a taxi to lớn the tiệc ngọt to avoid waiting outside in the cold. (so that)

The dog ate the food very quickly. There was no food left for the other dogs. (so adverb that)

She stayed in the U.S. For three months for the purpose of studying English. (so that)