English Lesson: “Until”

When speaking English, there’s lots of prepositions that can be confusing. In this lesson, let’s make sure you don’t misuse “until”.

In order to understand this word, let’s use the example of a work schedule. Most of you work from 9 to 5. In other words, you finish work at 5.

  • You work until 5. (Think of “until” as the limit.)

Here’s another example: The store closes at 10.

  • The store is open until 10.

I think that’s pretty easy to follow so far. Here’s a challenge for you. Imagine a situation where you invite a friend over for dinner. Can you tell the difference between these two responses?

  1. “Okay, I can only stay until 7:30.”
  2. “Okay, I’ll be there at 7:30.”

The first one includes “until”, so it shows a limitation of how much time he can spend. He will have to leave at 7:30 because that’s his limit. The second response shows no kind of limitation. He will simply arrive at 7:30.

What if he alter his response to this: “Okay, can I come until 7:30?”

This is where it gets confusing. There’s three different meanings that can be derived:

  1. I can only stay until 7:30.
  2. I will arrive at 7:30
  3. I won’t be able to come sooner than 7:30.

The confusion occurs because of the verb choice, the preposition “until”, and the phrasing as a question.

So which meaning was intended? We really don’t know. We would have to clarify with the speaker. The bottom line: make sure you don’t confuse “until” with “at”.

If you’re interested in learning more conversational English like this, connect with Jon to sign up for private English coaching. We’ll work on making you sound like a native speaker.

Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

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