‘Til and till are acceptable synonyms of “until,” although till is standard and ‘til is informal. Always avoid the spelling of ‘till (apostrophe and two l’s).
What is the difference between til and till?
If you’re looking for a shortened version of the word until, till and ‘til are viable options. However, there are several misconceptions about these terms–– starting with the fact that neither ‘til nor till is an abbreviation of “until.”
Til and till are not abbreviations of until
According to The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD), the word till is older than “until” and it originated from Old Norse til for ‘to.’ The word “until” is a combination of the prefix un- (for ‘up to’) and ‘to,’ which stems from Old Norse und (‘as far as’ + ‘till’).
The preposition “till” (two l’s) carried into Old English and became synonymous with “until,” although Middle English “til” (with one l) was obscure by the late 19th century.
’til is not the older word, either
If you can believe it, the spelling of ‘til (single l with an apostrophe) didn’t enter the picture until the 20th century. Many people assume ‘til is the predated form of till and until, but this idea is quickly disproven by grammar experts.
According to Bryan Garner in Garner’s Modern English Usage, the word ‘til “has no literary history as a contraction,” and the assumption of such didn’t occur until the 1980s (Garner pp. 909–910).
Additionally, Google Books Ngram Viewer shows that “till” has maintained popularity over “til” since the 16th century, whereas “until” surpassed their frequency in the three centuries later.
Which is correct: until, till, or ‘til?
The word “until” is the most common and formal word to use, while Modern English permits the shortened form of till for informal writing. But when it comes to til (with or without the apostrophe), English usage guides don’t share the same opinions.
“If a form deserves a sic, it’s the incorrect ‘til,” writes Garner on the topic. However, AHD states that ‘til “is considered acceptable, though it is etymologically incorrect.”
But if there’s one thing most dictionaries can agree on, it’s to avoid the use of ‘till (with two l’s and an apostrophe). “Abominable” and “nonstandard” are two ways our sources describe the misspelling of ‘till. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary even goes as far as to call it “barbarism.”
In summary, The Word Counter advises readers to stick with “until” for formal writing and reserve “till” for informal settings. Meanwhile, use ‘til or til cautiously and avoid ‘till altogether.
Did you know?
What does until mean
According to AHD, the preposition “until” means ‘up to the time of,’ ‘before,’ ‘unto,’ or simply ‘to’ (for Scots). For example,
- “We stayed in New York until spring.”
- “She’s scheduled to work the cash register until noon.”
- “He doesn’t receive phone notifications until 9 a.m.”
- “My calendar is booked until May.”
As a conjunction, “until” means ‘up to the time that,’ ‘before,’ or ‘to the point or extent that.’ For example,
- “We talked until my roommate came home.”
- “I’m not buying a house until I have money saved first.”
- “I ran until my legs gave out.”
- “Until then, we suggest using a style guide on American English.”
- “Hang tight until I have more information.”
Afore, ahead of, before, ere, fore, of, previous to, prior to, till, to, up till, up to.
After, following, next, next to, since.
What does till mean?
The word till is an informal preposition and conjunction that means ‘until.’ For example,
- “We stayed up till three in the morning.”
- “…till death do us part.”
- “I work from till five.”
- “He watched the series till season five.”
- “They worked on WordPress sites till the end of 2018.”
How to use till vs. til in a sentence?
Now that we understand the background and definitions of till and til, it’s time to peak at how these spellings exist in published writing.
How to use till?
While “until” is the most formal word to use for published writing, the informal spelling of till is still common within news articles and creative platforms. For example,
- “… the ban would go into effect starting from Wednesday and would last till January 5.” — AP News
- “Uneasy Under Coronavirus Lockdown, Pubs in England Count Days Till Christmas.” — The New York Times
- “Wait till you hear how he met his girlfriend.” — Los Angeles Times
- “Rains may continue in coastal Andhra Pradesh till Friday…” — The Weather Channel
- “As the pandemic rages on, we decided to extend it at least till the summer…” — Slate Magazine
How to use ’til or til?
As you might expect, the use of ‘til and til is relatively uncommon in published news articles. However, the chances of spotting these shakey terms increases within opinion pieces, headlines, or quoted material. For example,
- “Hilary Duff jokes she’s ‘not brushing her hair’ til Christmas is over…” — Daily Mail
- “School’s out ‘til summer, Portland pauses Chromebook check-out…” — The Oregonian
- “‘We’d been shouting ‘til we were blue in the face that small-caps were getting left behind…’” — The Wall Street Journal
Additional reading: til or till
English grammar can be difficult, but The Word Counter is here to help. Check out our lessons on similar topics, such as:
Test how well you understand the difference between til and till with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false: Until and till are different words with the same meaning.
- True or false: We can use ‘til instead of “till” and “until” for formal writing.
- ‘Til became an alternate spelling of till in the _____________.
a. 12th century
b. 16th century
c. 20th century
d. 21st century
- The word until is a _____________.
d. A and C
- The word ‘till is not a ____________.
- Which of the following is the least correct form of until?
- Garner, B. “Till; until.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 909–910.
- Harper, D. “Till (prep.).” Online Etymology Dictionary, Etymonline, 2020.
- “TIL.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
- “‘Til.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Till.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020.
- “Till.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
- “Till.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
- “Until.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020.
- “Until.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.