Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we're not stopping till we get enough…
Q: Quick question this week.
Q: The word until – can it be shortened without ridicule from grammar boffins? I am not sure if ’til or till or til are viable options.
A: Good question. Every now and then, using the full until may seem too formal. In these cases, it is perfectly acceptable to lose the UN.
Q: I know they get a lot of criticism on the global stage, but surely we shouldn’t lose the UN.
A: Very funny.
Q: I really liked one of the UN Secretary-Generals – but he always made me want to drink coffee and eat naan. What was his name again?
A: Kofi Annan?
Q: Yes that was it.
A: And by the way, you need to say “Secretaries-General” when dealing with this kind of thing. We’ve discussed post-positives here previously.
Q: Can we get back on topic please?
A: Gladly! So, once you shorten until, what does it leave you with?
Q: Either till, til or ’til…
A: We should eliminate til – despite being the original Old English form of the word, it is widely avoided these days.
A: Till means exactly the same thing as until. For example – “the Olympics run from 5 August until 21 August”. You could equally write, “the Olympics run from 5 August till 21 August”. Both are correct and interchangeable.
Q: Wow, really?
A: Yes. As in “Till death do us part”.
Q: So a robber could burst into a store and ask for all the money in the until?
A: No. It only works this way round.
Q: I’m thinking some might not be comfortable with till having a few other meanings on the side.
A: That’s true. In fact, Americans reportedly aren’t fans of using till. They’d rather keep it for the cash drawer or to “till the soil”.
Q: Maybe they think it’s weird that a shorter version of until has to add an extra L? Because that IS weird…
A: Actually, till was around first – and until was derived from THAT.
Q: Oh, okay. So if the Americans aren’t using till, they’re going with ’til instead?
A: Yes. They prefer to use ’til – a shortened form of until – with an apostrophe at the beginning. Macquarie Dictionary lists it as a viable option.
Q: Any warnings that come with it?
A: Yes actually. There are some potential issues with ’til – such as confusion when placed at the start of quote marks. For example, “’Til we meet again.”
Q: Yeah, it gets a bit lost in there.
A: The other issue is that typing programs will think you’re opening a quote – so will place a single open quote (which faces the other way) instead of the apostrophe… so you end up with ’til – when it should be ‘til. A bit clumsy.
Q: I still like it. Maybe I’ll just find a font that has a vertical apostrophe/quote mark.
A: If you prefer it, go for it. But only use one or the other (till or ’til) – using both is confusing.
Q: Okay, so to recap – use until and whichever shortened version you prefer.
A: That’s right.
Q: And if you work for Fairfax, use only until and nothing else…
A: Yes, that’s a rule in their house style – common with newspapers. It’s a matter of taste.
Q: Speaking of taste, I’m off for some of that coffee and naan…
Do you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore? Email it to us today!