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What is the difference between till and until?

When to use till or until? Please explain with examples.

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  • 45
    In a nutshell, they can be used interchangeably in most situations, with the obvious exception of fixed phrases such as "Till death do us part". Some people will object to "till" (as being too informal or whatever), but only for entirely made-up reasons (such as that "till" is a careless abbreviation of "until" or something, which is simply wrong; "till" is actually the older of the two words, and "until" was derived from it rather than the other way round).
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 18, 2010 at 8:38
  • @RegDwigнt cool, learned something new. I was, until now, one of those that that till was just a truncated until.
    – Kevin
    Oct 25, 2016 at 23:37
  • I guess they are historically related like to and unto? Apr 20, 2019 at 5:17

3 Answers 3

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@RegDwight is correct in every particular. Till is indeed older and the two can be used pretty much interchangeably.

There is really only one usage I can think of where you would not use till: in setting up a negative conditional.

Until my landlord fixes the plumbing, I am not going to pay the rent.

I am not going to pay the rent until my landlord fixes the plumbing.

Here it would sound strange to use till, and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it is the negative.

One more thing. Sometimes you will see people spell till as a contraction of until: that is, as 'til. This is simply wrong, and not seen outside of old poetry and modern greeting cards aiming for a "poetic" tone. Anywhere you see 'til being used, till would be the correct word.

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  • 12
    +1 for "RegDwight is correct in every particular" (^_^). Seriously though, +1 for the rest as well. (See e.g. Wiktionary marking "'til " as nonstandard, saying "Those unaware of ['till' being older than 'until'] sometimes assume that till is a short form of until and hence spell it as 'til. This word is nonstandard but in widespread use.")
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 18, 2010 at 14:10
  • 7
    I don't think it's the negative, but simply flow - note that "It ain't over till the fat lady sings" is fine. However, "rent till" is harder to parse than "rent until", and also harder to say due to the double 't'.
    – Mark
    Dec 18, 2010 at 14:55
  • 24
    I don't find "till" strange in that sentence. Am I the only one?
    – Kosmonaut
    Dec 18, 2010 at 15:35
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    @Kosmonaut: The second example would sound less strange using till but I really can't wrap my ear around that usage in the first. Perhaps it's a regional thing.
    – Robusto
    Dec 18, 2010 at 16:30
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    I wonder if it's an association with "unless" ("Unless my landlord fixes the plumbing...")?
    – Mark
    Dec 19, 2010 at 16:26
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Usage

According to the usage notes from the entry for till in dictionary.com, until and till are interchangeable:

Till and until are both old in the language and are interchangeable as both prepositions and conjunctions:

It rained till (or until ) nearly midnight.

The savannah remained brown and lifeless until (or till ) the rains began.

Till is not a shortened form of until and is not spelled 'till. 'Til is usually considered a spelling error, though widely used in advertising: Open 'til ten.

Etymology

According to the entries for till and until in the Online Etymology Dictionary, until would have derived from till:

until = und + till, where und was an Old English word meaning "as far as, up to".

till O.E. til (Northumbrian), from O.N. til from P.Gmc. *tilan (..) A common preposition in Scandinavian, probably originally the accusative case of a noun now lost except for Icelandic tili (..) the noun used to express aim, direction, purpose.

until c.1200, from O.N. und "as far as, up to" (related to O.E. end; see end)

  • till "until, up to" (see till). Originally also used of persons and places. Cf. Swed. intill, Dan. indtil. The Mod.Ger. equivalent, bis (O.H.G. biaz), is a similar compound, of O.H.G. bi "by, at, to" and zu "to

Frequency

Corpus of Contemporary American English:

until = 176K occurrences
till = 11K occurrences

British National Corpus:

until = 39K occurrences
till = 5K occurrences
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  • Wow so both till and until were borrowings from Old Norse into Old English. I wonder what was used before the borrowing? Mar 30, 2018 at 0:46
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It's been suggested that there's a difference in aspect: till is used with continuous actions, while until is used for perfective. However, this is not supported by any references or general usage, and seems to be an independent analysis.

The only difference is that until has no homophones. I'd suggest using until whenever there's a risk of confusion or difficulty in pronunciation, and only use till where it's suitable for the flow. Till, being older and ambiguous is often used poetically ("till death do us part") which affects the tone of the sentence. I therefore generally avoid till in technical writing.

Finally - as has already been mentioned - 'til is a hypercorrection, and is best avoided.

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  • link is dead :(
    – Jan
    Mar 1, 2017 at 20:57
  • This link works for me and the article makes excellent sense to me. I will copy two examples from that article here: a) He works till 5 p.m. every day. Right. (Explanation: He works the whole day/ from the reporting time to 5 p.m. and not after that.) b) He works until 5 p.m. every day. (Grammatically wrong and makes no sense!) This sentence would work, rather: "He works until it is 5 p.m. every day." (Explanation: He works till the time its 5 p.m. Here, there is no reference of the time-period before 5p.m.)
    – HongboZhu
    Feb 25, 2019 at 10:03
  • BTW, the linked article's conclusion also totally agrees with the example given in @Robusto's answer.
    – HongboZhu
    Feb 25, 2019 at 10:13
  • I see nothing wrong with the sentence "He works until 5pm every day", although it might be more idiomatic might be just to say "until 5". Google for phrases like this, you'll find they're standard usage.
    – Mark
    Feb 26, 2019 at 11:45

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