I am wondering if you would consider the word hitherto to be outdated. I prefer it over its definition, "until now" and know of no equal alternative. I have been marked down (on papers) for using this "archaic" word. So, is this word outdated? If so, what is a good alternative?

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    – tchrist
    Apr 14 '18 at 0:45

Merriam-Webster Unabridged does not flag hitherto as "archaic."

Macmillan does mark hitherto as "very formal" but it's by no means outdated.

Whoever marked you down for using an "archaic" word is wrong (unless perhaps you were using hitherto in an informal context).

(Disclaimer: I read enough fantasy literature that hitherto seems rather ordinary to me.)

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    – tchrist
    Apr 14 '18 at 0:46

Anecdotally, yes, I would consider it archaic, and if I heard you use it I'd either think you were being pretentious, or that you were deliberately joking about speaking in a pretentious manner.

For reference, I'm a college educated American in my 40s.

As for replacements, I would just use "up to now" or "up till now". "yet" also works in some contexts.

Edit: To further emphasize, despite my education and reasonably broad reading habits, I'm not sure that I could have correctly defined "hitherto" until encountering this question, so this is about more than just trying to avoid seeming old-fashioned. I think using this term outside of certain technical contexts means you will not be widely understood by a general audience.

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    ... as does "so far", again in the right contexts :)
    – psmears
    Apr 10 '18 at 20:27
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    I agree. I'm a college educated Brit in my very late 50's. (I only get to use that line for another week.) Apr 11 '18 at 12:33
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    pretentious ≠ archaic. And "excessively formal" / "unlikely to be understood" are not the same as "archaic" either. Apr 11 '18 at 21:45
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    @ShreevatsaR True, but pedantic. I'm answering OP's underlying question "should I refrain from using this word", and judging by the votes, others agree with me.
    – BradC
    Apr 11 '18 at 21:57
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    I'd say hitherto would appear pretentious in a speech in a colloquial context but written in an academic text, as in school, it's ordinary. Also, not wanting to be rude, if one doesn't know the definition of such a word - assuming a native English speaking adult - then I'd question if your education is as good as you imagine it to be. You're safe if you're not writing for children or tabloid press IMO.
    – pbhj
    Apr 12 '18 at 21:18

Though I agree with Gnawme's conclusion, I thought I'd check the Google Ngram viewer to see how "hitherto" compares with "until now" in terms of frequency of usage among their corpus of books in English over the years. The chart shows that the frequency of usage of "hitherto" fell fairly uniformly by 80-90% over the years from 1800 to 2000, with a slight upturn from 2000 to 2008.

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    The Google Books Ngram Viewer data sets from before 2000 and after 2000 are not directly comparable, so it is very common to find changes in trends in the corpus in the year 2000, but these may not always reflect actual changes in trends in real usage. That's why the default window is set from 1800 to 2000, the most carefully curated portion of the corpus. Please be careful what conclusions you draw if you decide to make charts from 1800 to 2008 with their tool.
    – user28567
    Apr 11 '18 at 1:16
  • Thanks for the tip. Where is that documented? It certainly makes sense--I'd been wondering why they'd never updated the default, and I keep replacing it with 2008 because I thought it was desirable to have their most recent inclusions! Alas, they don't have any data after 2008. Apr 11 '18 at 1:21
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    Explained on page 12 of the PDF, thanks! Apr 11 '18 at 1:38
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    @Evargalo I'm surprised by the low occurence of "until now", though Yes! My thoughts exactly. This does not make sense. That hitherto is more popular today than "until now". The mind boggles.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 11 '18 at 19:45

Anecdotally, I read/hear the phrase "hitherto unknown" outside of legal or other technical contexts. I wouldn't say it's archaic, but it's not common. You could avoid it in favor of "previous(ly)" when speaking to a large or less-educated audience, but I don't see any reason to drop it from your vocabulary.

To expand on Green Grasso Holm's answer, here are some Ngrams comparing "hitherto", "until now", and "previously". It looks like "hitherto" is relatively more popular in British English, fiction, and phrases.

All English: English

American English: American English

British English: British English

English Fiction: English Fiction

"hitherto unknown" vs. "previously unknown": Phrases

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    "prior to" appears to be more common than "until now" - books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – omikes
    Apr 11 '18 at 23:44
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    "Prior to" doesn't mean the same thing, though. "Prior to now" is less common: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Adam Haun
    Apr 12 '18 at 16:50
  • Hitherto and previously do not have to refer to now though. Setting that reference point is what brings the occurrences down I believe.
    – omikes
    Apr 12 '18 at 16:54

Extremely formal usage. Many of the answers you received speak to the fact that 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% of the respondents have never heard it used (in spoken language) or have rarely (if ever) seen it used in written form.

Why use a word...when it's probable that 90% of your audience is totally unfamiliar with that word?

Everyone clearly understands what "until now" means.

  • Why use a word...when it's probable that 90% of your audience is totally unfamiliar with that word? Maybe because it makes them look smarter? Apr 12 '18 at 13:39
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    Why use a word... Here are some legitimate reasons. 1. Because it naturally reflects one's thinking process; 2. Because it is easier to say or sounds better in the sentence; 3. Because words with essentially the same meaning still vary in nuance and connotation; 4. Because it is extremely easy to find definitions of words these days and broad vocabulary is generally good for intellectual discussion; 5. To maintain a consistent tone. (Not that I advocate for using esoteric words. It depends on your aims and audience.)
    – Artelius
    Apr 13 '18 at 7:03
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    I think it's actually rather unlikely that 90% of the audience is unfamiliar with the word hitherto.
    – user28567
    Apr 13 '18 at 16:07
  • Technically those are 5 "valid reasons". Realistically...if you use the word "hitherto" in a conversation...you would confuse the vast majority of people (regardless of the place/audience). Anyone who was not confused would probably consider the usage "pretentious" (at best).
    – RickyBobby
    Apr 13 '18 at 16:12

I would tolerate hitherto, but I would consider the other words from this "set", whitherto and thitherto, to be archaic. Similarly, therefore is fine, but wherefore and especially herefore can sound a bit outdated, though I think they sometimes make more sense in places we use therefore. Just please use therefor correctly.

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    I think wherefore requires at least 10 minutes of lecture time to explain in every high school class that reads Romeo and Juliet. That's a good sign it's archaic.
    – The Photon
    Apr 12 '18 at 16:53
  • Personally, I love thitherto (though I don’t believe I’ve ever used whitherto). Conversely, I firmly hold that the only correct way to use therefor is never, even more so with wherefor and (eurgh!) herefor. @ThePhoton It’s a sad state of affairs if it takes a full ten minutes to explain to high school–aged people that wherefore means why. Apr 14 '18 at 8:49

It is, as Gnawme stated, entirely variable upon the environment in which the word is used or even if it manifests in discourse or written language. For legalese, the Law Dictionary defines hitherto as a 'restrict[ion] [of] the matter in connection with which it is employed to a period of time already passed.'

Therefore, although growing obsolescent in every-day language - Green Grasso presented an 80%-90% decrease between the 1800s and 2000 - it is nevertheless a plenteous lexeme in formal texts!

A similar set of adverbs, 'thereto' and the bygone phrase 'thereunto' might have undertaken a similar trajectory as hitherto, deemed literary or archaic words. This could be extrapolated to hitherto in the future.


'Hitherto' is somewhat archaic, but still used, if largely just in legal writing. It can mean 'up to now', or 'up to a specified time in the past' - i.e. 'up to then'. If the archaic flavour upsets your professor use 'up to now' or 'up to then'. We should always be aware of how what we write will be received by our audience!

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