Q&A: Through vs thru

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 through with thru!

Q: Hi AWC, we got an email from Steph last week – she’d like to know when to use “thru” and when to use “through” and if they mean the same thing. So?

A: Was she in a drive-thru when she wrote that email?

Q: Unsure. Let’s go with no.

A: And she’d like us to go through the options for her?

Q: Yes that’s righ— oh, I see what you’re doing. You’ve just used them each in a sentence. But wait, that’s still not very helpful.

A: True. First things first – “through” is the only one you should ever use for formal writing. No exceptions.

Q: Wow, this is an early call. But I always thought it would win through.

A: “Through” is Germanic in origin, originally relating to “door”. But its current spelling has lasted since the 13th century.

Q: Wow. That’s an old word. But what about “thru”?

A: “Thru” does mean the same thing as the preposition “through”, with its simplified spelling arriving in the 1800s. It’s simply a space-saving version of “through” – reserved for only a few uses.

Q: Such as “drive-thru”, right?

A: That’s right. Basically it’s used on signs to save on space. Although “drive-thru” has become more of its own idiom by this stage.

Q: There’s usually an idiom in front of me at the drive-thru, that’s for sure.

A: Did you know the first drive-thru restaurant was in 1947? But the name wasn’t shortened like that until 1949.

Q: Wow, nope. I guess it had a big golden M?

A: No way – they weren’t even around then and didn’t get a drive-thru until 1975.

Q: You’re full of fun facts. I’m lovin’ it.

A: Anyway, you may have heard through the grapevine that MacquarieDictionary lists “thru” as a form of “through” – they suggest it’s often used in advertising. But unless it’s some trademarked product feature, we really think it’s only acceptable for signs like “drive-thru” or “no thru traffic”.

Q: But why doesn’t “no throughfare” get shortened to “no thru fare”?

A: Actually, those signs say “no thoroughfare” – a thoroughfare being a road or main route. Just as a thoroughbred is typically a racehorse.

Q: You’re blowing my mind here. So musician George Thoroughgood is a horse?

A: No. And it’s George Thorogood.

Q: So Mr Ed isn’t Ed Sheeran then?

A: You may want to lay off the bourbon, scotch and beer.

Q: Okay. But “thru” can also be used in a text message these days, right?

A: Well, yes, social media has done that to most words. So when Alice goes through the (see-through) Looking Glass, she might receive a text from the White Rabbit asking “Yo, u thru yet? Hop 2 it, we r L8…”

Q: Side question. Does it matter if “see-through” is without a hyphen?

A: Keep the hyphen. It helps in a situation like “the Emperor could see through their plan to make see-through clothes”.

Q: But they didn’t make any clothes for the Emperor. He was naked the whole time! Oh sorry, spoilers.

A: Anyway, as a final run-through – only use “thru” for informal, promotional or space saving writing (e.g. texting or sign writing). “Through” should see you through for everything else.

Q: Thanks for the thorough food for thought from the knowledge trough. It threw up a few issues, but I’m glad we pulled through with the goods. This topic has been covered, through and through.

A: It’s probably time to shoot through though, right?

Q: Yes. Drive-thru sounds good right about now…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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