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What does until mean in the following?

You need to deliver this product within 2 days (until August 18, 2011) to meet your deadline and get paid.

Does this mean that I have to deliver the product by 23:59 on 17 August 2011 or 23:59 on 18 August 2011? The order time is 21:04 on August 16 2011.

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This is not good English. Either it was written by somebody for whom English is not a native language, in which case I wouldn't necessarily conclude anything about his interpretation from the text, or it was written in a hurry by someone who meant to put (you have until 18 August) in parentheses, in which you should deliver it by 23:59 on 18 August. However, I would guess, from the order time and the two day period, that you need to deliver it by 23:59 on 18 August. –  Peter Shor Aug 16 '11 at 22:00
    
August 18, 2011 is not bad English. It's the proper way to format a date in US English. –  Matthew Elvey May 21 at 23:00

8 Answers 8

up vote 6 down vote accepted

My default reading of that would be that you can deliver the product at any time on the 18th of August, 2011 and still be considered to have met your deadline.

If the deadline were 23:59 August 17, it would have been stated as "(before August 18, 2011)".

I will also note, though, that most people will consider "the end of the business day" rather than "the end of the day" to be the cutoff time, so you might be considered late if you turn it in after 17:00, if that's when your client normally closes their offices.

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I came here to get an answer to this question. I think Bryan Agee's is a fairly compelling one. Does until [date]” mean “before that date”? It's as much a legal question as it is an English question. The answer is complicated by the multiple definitions of the question -

1)Does “until [date]” mean “before that date”? 2)What does "within 2 days" mean? 3)What does "until August 18, 2011" mean?

That's really 3 questions.

Regarding the first, which is the one I came here thinking about, I feel like it's helpful to try and translate the sentence into pseudocode, and armchair evaluate it. It seems to me that conceptually, if "until (Thursday)" is evaluated every second, it is going to evaluate one way up through the last second of Wednesday, and then will evaluate the opposite way. But, pseudocode and English are not the same thing, so I'm not entirely convinced this means that the answer to #3 is is "your last possible moment to comply would be Aug 17th, 23:59:59.99.....".

Looking in a dictionary was no help; I came here after trying a few.

Regarding the second, to me, "within 2 days" means within 48 hours, so in this context, by 21:04 on August 18, 2011.

Regarding the third, I see it as like the first; the value of "until (August 18, 2011)" changes a second after Aug 17th, 23:59:59.

As for the legal definition, I found a discussion of some cases in the legal media here but it's a confusing discussion! Bottom line: in the subject case, the Illinois court judge ruled that 'until' means up to and including. (He ruled this way despite a case that the losing side claimed had set precedent the other way.) This is the opposite of the conclusion I reached via pseudocode.

Interesting research.

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I just had one of those ambiguous moments today and got "corrected" by my boss at work.This was over an email message sent to me during my abscence at work. It read as the following:

Not sure yougot the text message.

You are coverered for days until Monday January 13.

Enjoy the time with your family.

Call when you return to town.

May want to check in with luc regarding his staffing needs.

So, I interpreted the line "You are covered for days until Monday January 13" initially, I thought that I was covered up to the 12th and had to come to work on the 13th. Then, after some time elapsed, I began to think the other way. I thought it through and interpreted the line as if I was not expected to work on the usual Monday that I was scheduled. My mind was going both ways, so I tried to communicate with Boss Man via both email and cellphone. I was waiting for a response back to double check myself, but the Boss Man didn't bother to respond back. You see, here I am feeling some ambiguity in the wording and trying to double check with my thought process. Well, the next day, he called and wondered if I was going to come in or not. He felt that if I can't interpret that sentence, there must be something wrong with the way I think or that he should not have had to respond.Without going into further detail, you can just imagine to yourself how the rest went. The point is that I was trying to get further clarification as some of you have suggested. Well, maybe this is the place to go when I am confused uncertain or just plain feeling some ambiguity in my state of mind. Thanks for deciphering such technicalitites. This really helped.

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It is ambiguous. Ask for clarification.

If you have until a date to submit payment, does that mean you can still turn it in on that date, or do they expect to see payment on (date - 1)? The word until does not make a clear distinction. Don't assume that until means through. Be safe, and pay a day ahead.

See #8 in the following article:

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-13-trickiest-grammar-hang-ups?et_mid=565474&rid=233042699

You are certainly not the first to be confused by until ambiguity.

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Coming from prehistoric German, "Till" passed into old English as meaning a goal or fixed point in either space or time. It is said by various websites to have been combined by contraction since the 13th century with the Norse word "und" (pronounced unt) which is said to come from the proto-Germanic word "wundō" which means "wound", but this really makes no sense. It makes much more sense that "till" would have been contracted with the Germanic word "und" (also pronounced unt) meaning "and". More or less, the two together would literally translate to "and to such point".

Therefore the statement "You have until March 1st to pay your rent of $100 to avoid eviction." would translate roughly to "At this present time have you a debt of $100. You may make payment at present and to such point as the date of March 1st to avoid eviction." The latter being quite tedious to say or write, has evolved.

In your example, "you must deliver your product within two days (and to be clear, you have from now and to such point as August 18, 2011) to meet your deadline and get paid." Technically, I suppose, it means you have to deliver the product by 23:59 on 17 August 2011, although a real deadline to a particular point in time should include the actual time. As no time was supplied, it might be compromised to be high noon August 18, 2011. I guarentee you though, it definitely means before the end of the business day August 18, 2011, whatever hour that may be, and more than likely does not mean until midnight the following day unless they have 24 hour receiving.

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I don't think the example is a well worded condition; likely it was a typo/copy editing oversight.

Until--in the most literal sense--is a true condition that becomes false upon the occurrence of the target event. Using that definition, until Aug 18th would mean that your last possible moment to comply would be Aug 17th, 23:59:59.99.....

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"until" doesn't really work in that context at all. A parenthetical clause in that sort of sentence usually indicates a restatement of the previous phrase in different terms in order to provide clarity. So let's replace the phrase in that sentence:

You need to deliver this product until August 18, 2011 to meet your deadline and get paid.

That would mean that you need to continually deliver it for two days. There are types of products where this is possible — running water comes to mind — but I doubt that is true in your case.

Regardless, "until August 18" and "within two days" are mutually exclusive phrases. They cannot mean the same thing.

I'd ask for clarification.

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My client sent me this. He placed order today and the deadline is of 2 days. But I got confused by that word "UNTIL" –  Chankey Pathak Aug 16 '11 at 18:00
    
Order time: Tuesday, August 16 2011 21:04 –  Chankey Pathak Aug 16 '11 at 18:03
    
@Chankey: I would honestly ask for clarification. –  wfaulk Aug 16 '11 at 18:11

Until, which means up to, generally includes the specified moment.

The kidnappers have given us until October 11th to deliver the documents.

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