Till, ‘Til, or Until?


till, 'til or until

I can’t remember the song, but at church last Sunday we sang a hymn that included the word ’til. Like many churches these days, we project the song lyrics onto a screen, and I’ve been asked, as a recognized linguistic authority (a.k.a., nit-picky grammar geek), to double-check the grammar and spelling. The use of ‘til got my attention. I was pretty sure the word was simply till. Fortunately, I looked it up before I made the projector guy change it.

I get ‘til. It seems like the logical way of informally shortening until. What’s interesting is that till — meaning before or up to a certain time — is older than its synonym until. In fact, until comes from the compound of und,  Old Norse for up, and till, which originally meant  to. So und till, later shortened to until, meant up to.

That means there’s no need for ‘til as an abbreviated version of until, since till has always existed as a synonym. But it is used so commonly that dictionaries now list it as an alternative.

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There are, of course, purists who will object to the use of ’til. It’s fine, but if you want to avoid an argument, stick to till or until.  For those of you who want to say something is wrong, there is til. If you leave out the apostrophe indicating the missing letters, it’s wrong. I know that will make somebody happy.

‘Til next time…


Please be so kind as to leave me your thoughts in a comment below…


About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Brian

    My schooling (New York Regents & Northern Wisconson) supports Roger’s friend’s assertion that till should not be used as the abbreviation for until. Because the word itself can stand alone with the same meaning, we have to allow and accept its use.

    I also believe we were schooled to not use it because it would cause possible confusion with the other meanings of till, including the cash register.

    I was first confronted by this “misconception” when I was involved with a German mother-tongued individual who used “till” to mean “until”. I quickly corrected this “error” because I wanted this person to understand that “till” meant to turn soil, amongst other things. Of course, before I could make my case, it would be imperative that I be correct – which I was not. That surprised me quite a bit and I now accept it (except it? lol). I might add that while I accept it, I still believe the reasons behind my schooling, and I still prefer to see the abbreviation as: ’til. I just think it looks more like an abbreviation (and the word “till” is actually not an abbreviation).

    Brant Parker and Jonny Hart – writers of the comic strip Wizard of ID illustrated it poignantly when they stated in a comic strip: We do not hire serfs as sales clerks – (why not?) – because they soil the till… ha ha ha.

    By the way – been travelling the world for 50 years so I know English from “both sides of the pond”.

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  3. Roger

    I have been part of a writer critique group for ten years or so. Within our midst resides a M.D. who is a rather gifted writer. His opinion, oft stated, is very much respected. It has been his contention that “till” is the wrong abbreviation for “until,” because “till” is what you do before planting a crop. He advises the use of – ’till. I, therefore, found your instructive dispatch as a beneficial smidg of gilded information. Thanks!

  4. Von

    I would have thought that ’till’ meant, like, what you do to the ground before you put a seed in it 🙂

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