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Although various eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American poets had professed an interest in Native American poetry and had pretended to imitate Native American forms in their own works, it was not until almost 1900 that scholars and critics seriously began studying traditional Native American poetry in native languages.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

"until almost 1900" seems more correct to me. Other uses:

I waited until almost noon to eat breakfast

The train waited until almost everyone was aboard before leaving

Sometimes you can rephrase as:

The train almost waited until everyone was aboard

This isn't really possible with your example, however, because "almost 1900" is needed. To rephrase it entirely you could do something like:

It was almost 1900 before they began studying poetry

Other words work in place of "almost":

It was not until nearly 1900 that they began studying poetry

But all of these variations point toward "until almost 1900" being correct. These all seem very wrong to me:

It was not nearly until 1900...

I waited almost until noon...

The train waited almost until everyone was aboard...

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"the train almost waited .." - That means that the train didn't really wait, doesn't it? The positioning of "almost" determines what the "almost" actually qualifies. "Almost everyone" is with regards to the people (not quite everybody). "Almost waited" is with regards to ... what? Can you "almost wait"? I don't think so. – teylyn Apr 18 '11 at 21:37
Yes, you are correct. I noticed the mistake a while after I posted the answer but decided to leave it there because it was an interesting mistake. You can use it that way but it does change the meaning. "The train almost [waited until everyone was aboard]." – MrHen Apr 18 '11 at 22:29
@teylyn: The train could "almost wait" if the engineer intended to wait until everyone was aboard, but some weird quirk of fate prevented him from noticing that someone wasn't. It could "wait until almost everyone was aboard" if the engineer decided that having 95% of intended passengers was good enough. It could "wait almost until everyone was aboard" if the engineer was deliberately seeking to make the last passenger(s) chase the train. – supercat Jan 20 '15 at 16:23

Neither is wrong, but both are clumsy. The writer wants to sustain a long sentence and make a narrow qualification at the same time, which almost always partially hampers clarity.

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Agreed. I would revise the sentence as it is unbearably clumsy and awkward. You sense that there's a good idiom available and the writer is missing it wholesale. "Scholars and critics seriously began studying traditional Native American poetry in native languages circa 1900." The phrase "almost until" is trying to be overly cute - if you know the year is 1899 then say so. – The Raven Apr 18 '11 at 17:56

If the implication is that the date is approximate because the information is incomplete, around could work, as in

not until around 1900.

If the implication is that the date had not yet arrived, almost is better.

Otherwise, if the date is known then just say "not until (fill in the date)."

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No, there's an important difference between around and almost here. We are looking forwards towards an event, so a date that is almost 1900 must be before 1900; one that is around 1900 may be after 1900. – user1579 Apr 18 '11 at 17:56
I had made that distinction in the part after the blockquote. Maybe it wasn't obvious. I have edited my response for clarification. Thanks. – gbutters Apr 18 '11 at 18:17
Ah, sorry, I was distracted by the weakness of "perhaps". There's no "perhaps" about it; "around" does not carry the implication that the date had not yet arrived. But we're splitting hairs on a perfectly decent answer at this point. – user1579 Apr 18 '11 at 18:42

It is clear what you mean, but I find neither choice stylistically satisfying. Perhaps the problem is that until signifies a limit, whereas almost pushes you back again a short distance from this limit. The result is a slightly uncomfortable bouncing back and forth.

I think there is no simple way to express what you want to say in a more elegant way; you probably need more words or restructuring. A few suggestions:

... it was not until the late nineteenth century that scholars and critics seriously began ...

You are merely saying here that they did not begin before the late 19th century: you are not asserting that they actually began at the moment the late 19th century was announced, in, say, 1875—but technically that would, alas, be a possibility. This is perhaps a bit less precise than you would like; but in this case I feel that such precision is of little importance. You are not naming years at any rate.

... it was not until the 1890s that scholars and critics seriously began ...

This would be more precise, but the precision might feel a bit spurious somehow. Even so, I think it would do.

... it was only at the closing of the nineteenth century that scholars and critics seriously began ...

This is clear and conventional. I'm just not greatly charmed with this wordy, voguish phrase. But it will do.

You could also combine different elements from these suggested phrasings. Use your gut feeling and make your own decision.

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I would phrase this:

"It was not until shortly before 1900 that ..." (if you are looking for iffy-ish precision),


"It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that ..."

if it's acceptable to refer to the general century (which seems the intention with 1900) and you're willing to substitute the sense of "almost" 1900 with the end of that which preceded it (a change in meaning which in most circumstances would be minor indeed).

This is more a matter of convention and standard locution than anything else. The English language could use the word "almost" in the ways stipulated above ... only it doesn't tend to do so for longer periods of time. I don't even think we'd say, "It was almost the end of the month," but rather "nearly the end of the month."

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"Until nearly 1900" would read much more smoothly, in my opinion.

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This is really a comment, not an answer to the question. Please use "add comment" to leave feedback for the author. – tchrist Aug 19 '12 at 2:40
@tchrist: On a language and usage site, a recommended usage/wording is an answer, isn't it? – Ben Voigt Aug 19 '12 at 3:22

"until almost 1900" is correct as it's a prepositional phrase beginning with until and almost is the adjective modifying the noun 1900. The prepositional phrase modifies the verb " began" in the noun clause 'that scholars and critics seriously began" indicating when the scholars and critics started to study Native American poetry.

In “Almost until 1900" it's not clear what "almost' modifies. From the sentence it appears that the intended meaning is that around 1900 (could be 1899 or 1901) scholars and poets began to study Native American poetry. Thus placing "almost" before 'until" no longer communicates the intended meaning.

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See my answer. I would suggest that "almost until 1900" implies that there would have been some qualitative significance to reaching 1900, but there was a systemic reason why that milestone wasn't reached. If someone designed a roller coaster which dropped the cars from an elevation of 100' and required them to go over a 100' summit, the cars might reach almost to that 100' summit, but that wouldn't mean they "almost" got over it. – supercat Jan 20 '15 at 16:28

I would interpret the phrase "almost until" as having a very specific meaning, which would not be applicable in many situations; it may nonetheless be a reasonable wording in those narrow situations where it applies.

Saying that something "lasted until almost 1900" suggests that there's nothing particularly special about that year, and if the thing had lasted 365 more days it would have been described as having lasted "until almost 1901".

Saying that something "almost lasted until 1900" suggests both that it might have lasted until 1900 but for some twist of fate which might plausibly have been--but wasn't--avoided, and that 1900 was a qualitative milestone; whether or not the thing lasted until 1900 is more important than the exact duration of its existence.

Saying that something "lasted almost until 1900" would suggest that reaching 1900 was a major qualitative milestone (as above, ruling out the "until almost 1900" form) and the time at which the object failed was very close to 1900, but the fates would have had to have been very different for the object to actually survive that last little interval (ruling out the "almost lasted until" form). It is rare that such a combination of factors would all apply, and unless all three factors apply, another form (or else a form which omits "until" altogether) would be more appropriate.

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