Even though until is not a very long word, it has become common practice to shorten it by dropping the first syllable. This is the norm in every day spoken English, but it presents a challenge in writing.
The difficulty people face is determining whether or not till is used as a contraction and therefore requires an apostrophe, i.e., ’til. However, only one of these spellings is correct.
What is the Difference Between Til and Till?
In this article, I will compare til vs. till. I will use the correct form in sentence examples, and, at the end, I will show you an easy trick to remember when to use each.
When to Use Til
What does til mean? Despite the popular misconception, neither ‘til nor til is the proper truncation of the preposition until.
Many writers attempt to use an apostrophe in front of ‘til, thinking it acts as a contraction, but to do so is incorrect. Till has no literary history as a contraction, so there is no need for an apostrophe (more on this below).
The acceptability of these spellings depends largely on whom you ask. Some dictionaries will list them as nonstandard variants; some won’t list them as words at all. Others will list them as acceptable, noting that the etymology is incorrect.
By and large, however, both spellings ’til and til are widely rejected in the writing community.
When to Use Till
What does till mean? Till is the properly truncated version of the preposition until, which means up to, and is used in anticipation of a future event.
Even though till is often considered less formal than until, it has been in use for several centuries, especially outside the United States, and is perfectly acceptable standard English.
In fact, till actually came before until. People think that till was just an afterthought and simply came by a shortening of until, but it is actually the earlier form. According to the OED, until appears to have been formed by adding the Old Norse und several hundred years after the first records of till.
So really till isn’t a shortened version of until. It’s really the other way around. Until is an elongated version of till.
Here are some examples of till in use:
- “Till death do us part,” vowed the bride and groom at their wedding.
- “I’m going to work in the yard till dinner is ready,” said Alex.
- His new study, which breaks down the forces propelling U.S. growth since 1947—the year the transistor was invented—and projects them forward to 2024, anticipates a boom in low-skilled work that rekindles economic growth to the tune of 2.49% a year from now till then, a little above the 2.34% experienced from 1990 to 2014. –The Wall Street Journal
As a noun, till might refer to a register where cash is stored. It might also be an implement for farming. It could also be a synonym for stony dirt. Here is an example of each:
- Gregory took twenty dollars from the till at the supermarket.
- “I can’t work the fields because the till is broken,” the farmer told his wife.
- “Give me the seeds; I’ll plant the till myself,” his wife replied.
As a verb, it means to cultivate the earth. See the sentence below.
- “It is time to till the soil,” the boy said to his father.
As you can see, many uses of the word till relate to the ground. Till can refer to the earth, the action of preparing it for planting, or one of the tools used in this cultivation. The following two sentences are alike in meaning:
- Chelsea, please till the till with the till.
- Chelsea, please loosen the soil with the farm implement.
Trick to Remember the Difference
In your writing, you should not use til. It is widely shunned in all variations of English, and till is widely preferred by opinion and by common use.
As you can see in the above chart that graphs until vs. till vs. til in English usage, til barely even registers a blip over the last 200 years. While until and till are clearly visible on the graph, you can hardly make out the line for till.
Till is clearly the preferred spelling—and the only spelling in widespread use.
If you don’t think you can remember till vs. til, here is a helpful trick. Consider that till and will both end in ll, and till will always be correct. Til with only a single l is wrong every time.
Is it til or till? Til and till are two ways to shorten the preposition until. However, only till is correct. The above graph shows till to be preferred by at least 20 times, and Garner’s shows till to be preferred to the form ‘til by 73 times. Clearly, there is only one correct choice with these words.
If you need help remembering whether to use till or til, remember that till will always be correct. This trick takes the guesswork out of choosing til or till.
- Till is the correct spelling of the truncated preposition until.
- Til and ‘til are both incorrect.