David Bowie had the song “Love You Till Tuesday,” but Michael Jackson had “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
Motörhead had an entire album named No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, but Shirley Bassey just sang “Till.”
Sometimes in songs, poetry, and simple everyday conversation, it feels more natural to use the shortened version of until. But which version is correct: ‘til or till?
The case for till
It would follow that till evolved as an abbreviation of until. However, till is actually the older word, being about eight hundred years old in comparison with until’s mere four hundred years. Until came into being as a compound of till, which originally meant to—and still does in Scotland—and the Old Norse word und, which means up to.
Since till is the etymological forefather of until, it makes sense that it would be the best choice for a shortened version of until.
The case for ‘til
Using apostrophes to replace letters happens frequently in English. Think about goin’ or rock ‘n’ roll. This makes ‘til seem like a natural shortening of until. Besides, since when do we add an extra letter (the second l in till) when we abbreviate words?
Till is generally accepted as being more correct than ‘til. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, till is the way to go. And, depending on which dictionary you use, ‘til is either an accepted alternative spelling or a spelling error. Despite some sources considering ‘til not technically wrong, it’s best to use till as all sources consider it correct.
But what about til?
If you feel you must use t-i-l, be sure to use an apostrophe at the beginning. Til with no apostrophe is always incorrect.
Erin Servais is owner and lead editor of Dot and Dash LLC, a publishing services company tailored to serving independent and self-publishing authors. Learn more about how to hire Erin: dotanddashllc.com