The Grammarphobia Blog

On ’til and till and until

Q: My pet peeve is the use of the word till to mean until. Isn’t ’til the correct contraction of until? I see it all the time (and I mean all the time) spelled till, which makes me think of working the soil. Am I wrong? I can’t rest ’til I know.

A: I’m sorry, but you are wrong. The word ’til (with or without an apostrophe in front to indicate an omission) is incorrect; till is correct.

Both till and until are legitimate words. Historically, in fact, till came first. Later, the prefix un (meaning “up to”) was added and the final l dropped, giving us until. In modern usage, they’re interchangeable, though until is preferred at the beginning of a sentence.

So it’s not correct that till is a shortening of until. Rather, until is a lengthening of till.

Where did ’til come from? It all began in the 18th century when writers muddied the waters by creating ’till and ’til under the mistaken assumption they were contractions of until. Not so.