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Till, until, ’til

Till, as a variant of until, is a preposition meaning up to the time of. Till—not til, an unnecessary abbreviation—has been in the language for centuries, and there’s no reason not to use it. To some it may sound less formal than until, but the two words are interchangeable in almost all contexts.

Because many Americans mistakenly view till as incorrect—we’re not sure why this is—the word is much more common outside the U.S. (though until is far more common everywhere). Here are a few examples of the word in action:

It’s less than a month till the World Marmalade Festival. [Guardian]

Kapil Sibal voiced hope that education till higher-secondary level too will become a fundamental right. [Indian Express]

Boeing delays 787 delivery till third quarter [The Australian]

Prejudice against till leads many writers, especially in the U.S., to use ’til—for example:

But other than that, it’s 31 days of counting the hours ’til Daylight Savings Time (March 13) and the Vernal Equinox (March 20). [Seattle Post Intelligencer]

North Texans in for warmer weather, ’til cold front hits next week [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

In these cases, there’s no reason ’til should not be till.

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Comments

  1. Actually, there’s no reason why ’til should not just be til. Til has been around even longer than till (in the meaning of until). Till was a later spelling variant.

    He slepeth … Al nyght til the sonne gan aryse. – Chaucer

    For me, “till” is a cash drawer … and a verb meaning to plow the land.

    • Grammarist says:

      Good point. The trajectory of the word appears to have been til -> till -> until -> ’til, with “till” and “until” both coming from the Old/Middle English “til” at roughly the same time. So if we were going on which form is older, “til,” without the apostrophe, would make the most sense. But web searches show it’s used far less often than “till” (as a synonym of “until”), which leads us to believe that at least some modern speakers of English consider “til” a misspelling. (And our American-English spell-check disapproves of it—though of course spell-check is often wrong.)

      Perhaps we’ll start using “til” on this site and see if anyone calls us out on it.

    • Balders says:

      At school (in England) we learnt “till”. Yes,”til” is older, as till is derived from it but that is a different language. If we go by AnWulf’s example everyone spells ‘night’ wrong, also.

  2. Thanks for clearing that up for me. :)

  3. James David Leslie says:

    An apostrophe is a placeholder. Therefore ’til is representing until, the apostrophe is holding the place of the first two letters u & n. The second L at the end of till is completely unnecessary and makes no sense, unless like another person mentioned, referring to a cash drawer or stirring up the dirt with farm equipment. Think of any other words with apostrophes (can’t, don’t, o’er, isn’t) Apostrophes are placeholders. So, ’til = yes, till = no

    • WelshRobot says:

      I think you miss the point of the original post.
      “Till” is apparently the original, or possibly even “til,”
      as AnWulf points out. Etymologically, “until” is a derivation of two
      words: a compound of und + till. Those who contract until to ’til are doing so
      because they mistakenly believe that “till” is incorrect. It’s a
      little like shortening skateboard to ‘board, or basketball to ‘ball –
      completely unnecessary and awkward. So until and till (and possibly til) are correct. ‘Til is the nonstandard variant, which, depending on your outlook, is either a poetic creation or an unseemly bastard.

      • Danneyland says:

        Your reply seems off-topic to what James David Leslie commented on – he expressed that he felt “insulted not once but twice” while reading this page. That had nothing to do with comprehension of the material he came to research, and I’m not sure your response was what he was looking for.

        • WelshRobot says:

          The reason my reply seems off-topic to you is that the original comment which I replied to, and which contained the question that my reply sought to constructively answer, has since been removed or edited. But, hey, I appreciate your criticism eight months after the fact, and you can be sure that I was not looking for it. Season’s greetings, freakshow.

    • Wow, mansplaining pedantry alert. Awesome job.

  4. Mike Loos says:

    till means to till the ground. ’til is an abbreviation of until.

  5. Thomas Spangler says:

    “Because many Americans mistakenly view till as incorrect—we’re not sure why this is—the word is much more common outside the U.S.”

    As an American, I personally don’t like to use till and prefer ’til due to the other meaning of the word (e.g. to till the land/tilling the fields); although I cannot speak as to the reason others of my nation dislike to use the word, I feel it helps avoid confusion and reader hang-ups. Hopefully that provides some clarity on at least on possible reasoning.

  6. fourpeat says:

    I think I can clear all this up. There was a woman who lived way back in the 1800s by the name of Fanny Crosby. She was one of God’s favorite women of all time, writing hymn songs like “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” and “Draw Me Nearer.” She used “Till.” Now I personally use ’til, but when it comes the day that we face God on His throne, I would like to see one of you bozos insist to the Lord that Fanny, “whose lyrics that she wrote, were inspired by the Lord,” was wrong! Yeah, go ahead and tell God that He made a booboo:)

  7. Not to beat a dead horse, as I understand that the author and those who have commented have discussed ” ’til ” is acceptable, but to quote, “Because many Americans mistakenly view till as incorrect—we’re not sure why this is…” For myself, who most certainly uses incorrect usage of grammar and spelling now and again, it makes sense as to the 3 word abbreviation because it’s “unTIL”, not “unTILL”, so why wouldn’t it be abbreviated as such?

    • Sarah Warren says:

      Because it’s not an abbreviation of until, it’s a different (synonymous) word.

      • ‘Til is a contraction — not an abbreviation — of the word until. It seems to me and many others to be preferable to the centuries-old till or til. At the least, it is certainly not incorrect.

        • Sarah Warren says:

          Til or ’til may be a contraction of until. Till is not. Till is, as I said, a different, though synonymous, word.

          People who view till as incorrect, because they believe it to come from until, are wrong.

          I didn’t say til or ’til were wrong. I said till doesn’t come from until. Aaron’s view that the 3 letter version makes sense because “it’s unTIL, not unTILL” only has any bearing if till comes from until. It does not.

          I never said you can’t use ’til, I don’t think anyone did. But ’til/til does not render till incorrect or any less acceptable.

          You can ‘prefer’ whatever you like. Till remains a perfectly correct usage regardless.

        • I could be completely wrong about this, but I think the word ’til is not a contraction. I believe the appropriate term for a word of that type is clipping or shortening. If I’m not mistaken, the term contraction applies to expressions (words) that have had internal letters/sounds removed. In the case of ’til, it is the beginning two letters that have been removed, or clipped.

          Aside from that, as we have seen with many words in the English language, if enough people use the expression ’til for a long enough period of time, it will become an acceptable, correct, and bona fide word (if it hasn’t already done so). English is a living language. That’s just the way it works.

          I apologize that my usage of the expression ’til is not properly underscored in my comments. I do not know how to underscore text in this response entry window.

          Respectfully,
          Someone who hasn’t formally studied grammar in at least three decades

  8. Another reason to avoid using ’til is that it takes an extra step to make a correct apostrophe to begin the abbreviation. Depending on your software and your settings, it usually gets converted to a beginning single quotation mark, which is backward.

  9. I think ’til is perfectly fine to use – while till and until are synonymous (till is defined by Google as a “less formal way of saying until”), ’til is just the elision of until. Think of it as a new word entirely.
    When I, personally, say ’til/till out loud, I say it with the intention of saying the word until without the prefix, which to me means that it’s a contraction and therefore should be written that way. If someone were to, however, say ’til/till with the intention of saying the synonym of until, then they should write it that way. I think it’s really intention-based.

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