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I just wrote a text message saying,

I did not get your messages until yesterday.

This looks a little strange to me, as I am using the word "until" to refer to a time already past, i.e. yesterday.

Is it correct to use "until" this way? Or would a different word be more appropriate, e.g. "before"?

Merriam-Webster gives this definition (2nd and 3rd senses given):

until (preposition)

2 —used as a function word to indicate continuance (as of an action or condition) to a specified time stayed until morning

3 : before 2 not available until tomorrow we don't open until ten

It's worth noting that "before" is a synonym. But I still wonder whether one or the other is more appropriate when it refers to time past.

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    Yes, you can. It just means that you didn't receive the messages before "yesterday". By analogy (substituting space for time), suppose you were flying over some mountains. You can say that the mountains below you were tall. – Lawrence Mar 15 '17 at 2:25
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    If you wanted to use "before" in place of "until," it would read, "I did not get your messages before yesterday." That sounds much less natural to me. – dmzza Mar 15 '17 at 3:36
  • @dmzza On second thought, I agree. – ktm5124 Mar 15 '17 at 3:39
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Yes, your text message sounds natural to me.

Unpacking the definition:

until

used as a function word to indicate continuance (as of an action or condition) to a specified time

The condition "I did not get your messages" continued from the time they were sent to the time you received them yesterday. Suppose that you expected to get the messages tomorrow. The only thing we would change about the sentence is the tense.

I will not get your messages until tomorrow

I understand why it feels strange though. I'm sure you wanted to imply that there was a significant gap between when the messages were sent and when you received them.

You could also use the past perfect tense.

I had not received your messages until yesterday

See this post for more discussion.

  • I could have used the word "gotten" in the past perfect example, but I replaced it with "received" because I don't like the past participle of "get." Sorry if that was confusing. – dmzza Mar 15 '17 at 3:43

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