19

I guess It's just that the second one is more emphatic, and perhaps more informal.
But which one would you prefer after stressing words like 'right' and 'even'?

  1. She kept studying right until dawn.
  2. She kept studying right up until dawn.
  3. He did not give in, even until his last breath.
  4. He did not give in, even up until his last breath.
2
  • 3
    I think that it can just be used to add a little emphasis. It doesn't change the meaning. Jul 27, 2016 at 13:09
  • One is English, the other is flatulence.
    – David
    Jan 20, 2023 at 19:19

6 Answers 6

10

Hmm ... Not so sure about 'up' adding nothing.

For me (British English)

"She kept studying until dawn" is clear and straightforward.

"She kept studying right until dawn" is not clear, or idiomatic.

"She kept studying up until dawn" is also clear but doesn't really add anything to the first version (here the up is redundant).

If I want to emphasise just how very close to the dawn she continued to study I would say "She kept studying right up until dawn"

This is a common usage in my experience. Consider another example:

Put the cupboard against the wall.

Put the cupboard right up against the wall.

I think, for me, (right) up means something like '...to the point/position where it is precisely...'

7

The "up" in "X up until Y" means that X was so or was happening immediately before the event or condition described in Y. Without "up", it wouldn't necessarily be immediately.

4

I think it is a subtlety of emphasis of interest, based on my personal experience and agreement with at least one official dictionary.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, "until" means something happens during a period of time before another event and then stops after that event. It is uninteresting exactly when the first thing stopped, only that it stopped before the second.

Again, according to the Collins English Dictionary, "up until" or "up to" points to the latest time at which a thing may occur or the last moment of the period of time to which you are referring. It is interesting that the first event continued exactly to the moment the second began.

"She stayed awake until he came home." - She undoubtably did not instantly fall asleep when he walked in the door, but that doesn't concern us. We care that she didn't start getting ready for bed before he came home.

"During this class you will take the test and we will review it. You have up until 15 minutes before the end of class to work on the test. Then you must stop, and we will review it." - We care about the exact minute that you stop studying.

For what it is or isn't worth, I am a native speaker of U.S. American English, originally from California, and this is the way I use these terms.

2

Native AmE speaker here.

I know a long time has passed since this was posted, but...

For me, the "up" in "up until" can be redundant, can be more informal, but is used in certain circumstances more than others because it does have a purpose. Just "until" is stating the time that something ended, but doesn't necessarily lead the listener into what happens next.

The focus of "up until" has to do, not with emphasis on the time, but with focusing the listener on the following event or the conclusion of the current action, as well as the time that the current action being spoken occurred. The following action isn't directly stated, but implied, at times. It also has a tendency to be used in surprise at the conclusion of an action.

If I use "up until" naturally, it really comes out if I'm talking about my past, like: "Up until I was 15, I went to Idle High School, and then I transferred to West Lake High."

Or in something surprising happening recently, especially something you've learned: "Up until Todd told me, I had no idea that your birthday was the same as mine!"

In the first one, the following event is directly given: "I transferred to West Lake High." In the second one, the following event is implied: "Now I know!"

You can also look at this in an example of someone knowing the following event and using "up until" to emphasize the conclusion of that action:

A: "Hey, I heard Louise decided to go back to university."

B: "No way. Up until yesterday, she said she was going to move to France!"

It seems more natural in a surprised response than using "until". Note that in this last example the actions are reversed in order they occurred, and we're emphasizing with "up until" because speaker B is shocked by the conclusion (She decided to go back to university).

And if you said "She kept studying up until dawn", as was previously used as an example. The following question would be "Well, did she get any sleep?"

I've been teaching ESL for 12 years and this had never come across until this week that a student asked me. I was actually pretty puzzled on how to explain it then. But I think it makes sense this way to differentiate them.

1
  • Thanks for the full explanation. I suspect that in some cases it's until that implicitly shifts focus to the next event or the conclusion, not up. For example, after "Until I was 15, I went to Idle High School" (without up) it'd be just as natural to ask "Where did you transfer to then?". Of course up can add an element of surprise, depending on the context, as your other examples demonstrate.
    – Færd
    Jun 30, 2020 at 20:46
-1

In my country, Nigeria, up until would be considered wrong use. It is either 'up to' or 'until'. I was quite surprised to find that it is commonly used in North America.

1
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    Jan 20, 2023 at 19:06
-3

The up is an unnecessary addition to these sentences. It's not incorrect, but it is redundant and wordy. The up could be removed from any of the sentences without affecting their meanings.

Contrary to what Greg Lee reasons in his answer, the sentence "She kept studying right until dawn" conveys that the woman was studying until the moment dawn broke. Saying "She kept studying right up until dawn" adds no new information.

3
  • 2
    Without meaning to sound picky, the fact that something has a redundant meaning doesn't mean that it has no meaning.
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:24
  • 2
    @Greg Lee: Also without meaning to sound picky, I do not think including up in any way implies the semantic distinction you claim. I don't even think there's a case for saying it adds "emphasis". It really is simply redundant - as Jessica says, it "adds no new information" (not even the possibility that the speaker is making a more emphatic statement than would be the case without the extra preposition). Having said that, I don't think there's any reason to avoid the idiomatically common usage. It's not what I would call "wordy". Oct 13, 2015 at 18:29
  • I think we are all in agreement that using "right up until" is common usage and not wrong. My personal feeling is just that the "up" is an unnecessary addition. I didn't say it had no meaning, just that it added no extra meaning to the phrase "right until." Therefore, whether you want to use "right until" or "right up until" would be based entirely on your own preferences.
    – Jessica
    Oct 13, 2015 at 23:45

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