Till, ‘Til, Til or Until? Which is right?

by Dax MacGregor
I was sure that till meant breaking up dirt; that until meant "up to the time of"; and, when people shortened until in speech, you wrote it as 'til - or maybe just til. But, after a little research, I learned I had it wrong.

Recently, I critiqued a submission for our weekly writer’s group meeting. I found an obvious error in this sentence: “I’ll be in the office till noon.”

Till is something you do to the ground, I thought, as I changed till to until.

After a moment, it occurred to me that, since the word appeared as spoken dialogue, maybe it should be written as ’til. The more I thought about it, I swore I’d seen til used without the apostrophe. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure about the whole thing.

I stopped critiquing and started researching.

It turns out, I was flat-out wrong from the start.

The first of these words to appear in English literature was till. It appeared around the year 800. Until doesn’t show up until around 1200 – created by appending the prefix und (meaning up to) to till.

That means that ’til is improper, since till was the original word.

I also learned that til is not a real word.

In summary, here are the rules:

Till is technically the most accurate.

Until is an acceptable (and more common) alternative.

‘Til should be avoided.

Til is not a real word.


  • Dictionary.com’s entry for till.
  • The Maven’s Word of the Day for June 5, 1998 at RandomHouse.com
  • World Wide Words post titled Until, Till and ‘Til.


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