Difference between Unless and Until

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  • Post last modified:06/07/2021
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Here I will explain the difference between unless and until. I also explain the difference between till and until. Includes a short video lesson.

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Conjunctions until and unless quite often confuse English learners. So today, I will clarify the difference between unless, until and till and give you plenty of examples.

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Difference between Unless, Until and Till

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UNLESS and UNTIL seem to cause students a lot of trouble even though the words are no way connected.

In fact, the only connection they have is that they’re both described in the English language as conjunctions.

We use both UNLESS and UNTIL in sentences to join some thoughts. So there’s a commonality between them, but in every other respect, they are very different.

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So let’s look first of all at UNLESS

When we’re using UNLESS, we don’t use it with any negative word. It’s not followed with a negative.

We can’t say:

❌ unless not

❌ unless no

❌ unless I didn’t

You can only follow UNLESS with a positive

Also, you can’t follow it with WILL

❌ Unless I will

Let me give you an example…

You can’t play football outside unless you have finished your homework.

Here we’re being very specific. We’re telling the person what he has to do if he wants to play outside.

And this is the actual comparison we can make because it’s very similar in some ways to the word IF. It’s conditional. So you’re introducing the condition.

He cannot play outside unless he finishes his homework.

You could rewrite that and say:

If you finish your homework, you can play outside.

So there you put a positive.

So IF and UNLESS are opposites, but they give you the exact same meaning in the sentence.

Let me just expand on that again for you. So we’ve said you can’t use a negative after UNLESS.

Let’s look at the example I’ve given you:

You can’t play football unless you do your homework first.

In this sentence, the negative comes first.  

And now have a look at how I twisted it around if you want to use the positive with IF.

If you do your homework then you can play outside.

In this sentence, the condition comes first and the positive comes second. 

Can you see the difference?

So UNLESS and IF in that situation are both opposites but they are giving you the same meaning. 

One with a positive spin – IF.

One with the negative spin – UNLESS.  

Difference between Unless and Until

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Now let’s look at UNTIL. And as we said before, it’s a conjunction. 

It’s different than UNLESS and when we’re using UNTIL it’s constrained by time. It’s always about restriction.

So let’s give you a quick example.

1️⃣ I lived with my grandmother until I was 15. 

What does it mean?

It means that for a long part of your childhood, maybe from a young age of two or three, you lived with somebody other than your parents, in this case, your grandmother until you were 15. So all to that age, to 15 and then from 15, something changed. Perhaps you went back and live with your parents or you went somewhere else. But the time constraint is that period of your life from early up to your mid teens or 15 you were, you spent that time with your grandmother.

So just to make sure that you actually understand this in the best way possible. When we’re talking about UNTIL, as I said, it’s time constraints.

It’s constrained before and up to the particular time, but not after.

Difference between Unless and Until

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2️⃣ I don’t have any money for the shops. You’ll have to wait until I get paid at the end of the week.

So here the time constraint is up to the end of the week, whether that’s Friday or Saturday, whenever you get paid. So before that and up to that, you can’t have any money because I don’t have any. After that I will have money. 

3️⃣ I’ve never been in the USA until last year.

So up to last year, whatever year that was, that the year today is 2019, last year would have been 2018. So up to and until, before 2018 you had never been in the USA and then it changed.

4️⃣ Oh, can’t you wait until your father comes home?

So that is time constrained, it is a time restriction. You don’t know what time he’s going to be home and they’re not telling you what time it is now, but it’s that restriction until he gets home. And when he gets home, you can ask him and then he’ll probably help you.

Difference between Until and Till

difference between until and till

And finally, then I just want to give you a little tip as to how to use UNTIL and TILL. First of all, be careful with the spelling of that.

The good news is that they’re exactly the same and there’s no need to be confused. The only difference is that UNTIL is a little bit more formal and TILL is very informal. But you can use either of them.

If you’re writing a letter, and you’re writing to somebody important, then I would suggest you use UNTIL.

If you’re speaking in an informal way, as most of us do now, TILL is absolutely acceptable. And you don’t have to use until. They have exactly the same meaning.

Okay, well, here we are at the end of yet another lesson. And I hope you have enjoyed it. And I’ve explained to you properly the difference between unless and until, and also giving you the information about the difference between until and till.

Join me again soon.

More information

For more information on English grammar rules, English collocations and English idioms, check out the links below:

English idioms about HOME

English collocations with CRIME

The present perfect continuous

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