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Language tip of the week: till

Learn English with Macmillan DictionaryIn this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. These tips are usually based on areas of English which learners find difficult, e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, etc.

This week’s language tip helps with using the preposition and conjunction till. Till and until mean the same, but till is less formal and is used mainly in speech and informal writing. In academic writing and professional reports, until is much more frequent:



✗ Our government used the death penalty as a deterrent till 1989.
✓ Our government used the death penalty as a deterrent until 1989.
✗ He published a prose work and a few poems, but did not achieve success till he turned to play writing.
✓ He published a prose work and a few poems, but did not achieve success until he turned to play writing.

Till is sometimes written til or ’til.

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Liz Potter

2 Comments

  • I’m very curious to know the basis of your claim that “till” is informal. It certainly is NOT inappropriate in the sentences you’ve marked with an x; I’m afraid you’re spreading a shibboleth. Till (thus spelled) is an older English word than until, not a clipping. So what’s your evidence?

  • Hi Jan. Thanks for your comment. While it is true that ’till’ is older than ‘until’, it is widely regarded as more informal. I don’t think this is a shibboleth and did not say that it was a clipping of ‘until’, just a less formal alternative. So we are not saying ‘till’ is wrong, we are saying it is less appropriate than ‘until’ in certain contexts, specifically formal or academic writing. Our evidence shows that ‘till’ is very little used in those types of contexts (around 10-15 uses per million words, against 300 per million for until) whereas it tends to be overused in learners’ writing (50 uses per million against 150 for until). ‘Until’ is also more than ten times more common than ‘till’ in an academic subset of the written element of the British National Corpus, so the evidence seems pretty clear. Since the purpose of our language tips is to give learners of English advice on appropriate usage, it seems reasonable to warn them against using ‘till’ in formal contexts.

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