The Difference Between Up to, Until, and Till

    19 February 2021

    This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Abrahan Ferrer, who is in Spain.


    Hello there,

    I am writing to you because I am quite confused with these three options here: up to, until and till. I don't know how to use it properly. Could you explain these words to us, please? Thank you very much for your support in teaching us English. Keep it up!!

    Abrahan Ferrer, Spain


    Dear Abrahan,

    Thank you for your message!

    Let's start with "until," and "‘till." They can be used as prepositions to describe time.

    The structure in this case is preposition + period of time. Here is a simple example sentence:

    Until yesterday, John did not realize that until and till

    had the same meaning.

    And also:

    Till yesterday, John did not realize that until and till had the same meaning.


    Until is used to show the time when a situation, activity, or period ends, as in:

    "I was up studying until 3 in the morning. I am so tired!"

    "Until" is also often used with deadlines – a time by which you must complete something. At work, your boss might give you a deadline. The boss may say:

    You have until Friday to finish the report.


    "Till" can be used in place of "until" in most sentences.

    Here is one such example:

    I can't wait till next week. I will finally get to see all my friends at school again!

    Up to

    "Up to" is a bit more difficult to describe. It can act as a preposition or play a part in a phrasal verb or phrasal expression.

    But here are a few very general ideas.

    "Up to" can be used to show the place or level that is reached by something, as in:

    The mud was up to our knees!

    "Up to" can also mean as many or as much as a given number or amount. For example, imagine a person buys a very large car. The person might say:

    My car holds up to 12 people!

    Here is another example. Imagine you have just taken a major exam. You really want to know your results. But you have to wait. A worker at the testing center tells you:

    You will have to wait up to three days for your test results.

    The worker might also tell you this:

    You will have to wait until Monday for your test results.

    Notice that the worker uses "until" in this case because Monday is a time, not a number or amount.

    Of course, "up to" has many other meanings. But we can talk about those some other time!

    Well, Abrahan, we hope this helps to answer your question.

    And to our listeners everywhere, what question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

    And that's Ask a Teacher!

    I'm Armen Kassabian.

    Armen Kasabian wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson and John Russell were the editors.

    Practice using the phrase ‘up to' and the words ‘until' and ‘till' in different ways in the comments below.


    Words in This Story

    preposition n. a word or group of words that is used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, location, or time, or to introduce an object

    bossn. the person whose job is to tell other workers what to do