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What it Means When Someone Says A Quarter Till: Grammar and Usage

You’ve probably heard the English expression “quarter till” in movies, songs, or even your daily interactions. It’s a phrase that refers to telling the time, but it can be a bit tricky to learn the time from this phrase. So, exactly what does it mean when someone says, “a quarter till”?

When someone says “a quarter till,” they mean there are about 15 minutes left until the next hour. So, if someone says, “It’s a quarter till four,” that means there are 15 minutes until 4:00. Or, to put it another way, they are saying that the time is now 3:45.

Let’s look at some of the grammar, spelling rules, and examples that can help you use “quarter till” correctly every time. 

Quarter Till Meaning

The expression of time quarter till means “15 minutes before” (source). It’s a combination of the noun quarter, meaning “a fourth,” and the preposition till, meaning “until.”

“Till” Means “Until”

The word “till” has exactly the same meaning as the word “until.” In fact, the word “till” is older than the word “until,” and the word “until” grew out of “till.”

Both “till” and “until” are prepositions, showing the relationship between two nouns. In this case, the preposition shows a relationship of time.

For more on prepositions and time, make sure you read “In Time vs. On Time: Choosing the Right Preposition for Time.”

The words “until” and “till” usually come with a specific time. This specific time can be an hour, a date, or an event that will happen in the future. We might occasionally refer to each as time words because they help explain the length of time between two different events or activities (source).

For example, you can say, “I will study until 10 p.m., and then I’ll play video games.” In this case, you’ve already started studying, but you will stop studying at 10 p.m. so you can start playing video games.

Or, you can use “until” with an event. For instance, you might say, “She’s working in the library until she graduates next semester.” This means that she has a job in the library, but when she graduates next semester, she’ll quit that job.

Quarter Till Grammar

In English, the phrase “quarter till” has some precise usage rules. While “quarter till” is not as flexible, you can still use the expression in a couple of different ways. Some will spell the phrase differently as well, so here are a few tips for using the phrase “quarter till” in English.

Writing About Time 

The formula for using the expression to communicate time in words looks like this: “It’s (a) quarter till” + ___ (o’clock). Then, in the space, just put the number of the nearest hour.

The Chicago Manual of Style notes that it’s common to spell out times of day in quarter hours, but they recommend always spelling out the number when attaching “o’clock.” For emphasizing exact times, they recommend using numerals (CMOS 9.37).

So, you say, “It’s a quarter till three” or “It’s a quarter till three o’clock.” Both of these sentences mean, “The current time is 2:45.”

In contrast, the APA Style favors using numerals for time, even for approximations (source).

Sometimes, people use the preposition “to” instead of “till” or “until” when they are explaining the time. For example, you might hear someone say, “It’s a quarter to three,” which also means that the time right now is 2:45.

Examples of Quarter Till

There is only one context where you use the phrase “quarter till,” and that’s when you’re telling time. So, all of the “quarter till” examples will revolve around scheduling, asking the time, or making a plan. Here’s an example:

Jamie: Hi Nate! What are you doing on Thursday evening?

Nate: Well, I have to work that day, so I’ll finish around a quarter till six in the evening. I’m free after work, though.

Jamie: Great! I’m planning to go to the movies that night. Do you want to join me?

Nate: Sure, that sounds fun! What time does the movie start? And at which theater?

Jamie: Let’s go to the theater downtown. The movie begins at 8 p.m., so we should get there around quarter till eight

Nate: Alright. See you Thursday evening at 7:45 at the downtown movie theater!

“Till” or “Til”: Which Is Correct?

In every current guide for the English language, grammarians consider “till” to be the word’s correct spelling (source). “Till” is the oldest and most widely accepted spelling of the word, and it is appropriate for formal and/or academic writing.

This question is actually a hot topic for grammar aficionados because “‘til,” with an apostrophe at the beginning, is acceptable in some poems, songs, and other creative language pieces. 

However, academic style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style view this spelling with one “l” at the end and an apostrophe at the beginning absolutely incorrect for academic and/or formal writing (CMOS 5.250).

“Quarter Till” or “A Quarter Till”: Which Is Correct?

Both “quarter till” and “a quarter till” are correct. In this case, the indefinite article is optional, and this is an exception to the general rules about using articles. The “zero article” is common for idiomatic expressions involving time.

Especially when the phrase appears in informal or conversational settings, it’s common to skip the indefinite article “a” and go straight to “quarter till.” 

In fact, this structure without the article has become so ubiquitous in the English language that it is acceptable to omit the “a” in formal and/or academic settings as well.

Quarter Past Meaning

The phrase “quarter past” means “15 minutes after” (source). People use this phrase to tell the time. The formula for using the expression looks like this: “It’s (a) quarter past” + ___ (o’clock). In the space, just put the number of the most recent hour.

In this phrase, the word “past” means “after.” It is a preposition of time that shows the relationship between the current time and the most recent hour. In fact, you can replace the word “past” with the word “after” in this expression.

So, “It’s a quarter past three” has the same meaning as “It’s a quarter after three.” Both of these phrases mean, “The time right now is 3:15.” 

Examples of Quarter Past

There is only one context where you use the phrase “quarter past,” and that’s when you’re telling time. So, all of the “quarter past” examples will revolve around scheduling, asking the time, or making a plan. Here’s an example:

Harriet: Hello, welcome to our restaurant. How can I help you?

Mike: Yes, hello. I made a reservation for four people at 7:00, and we’ve just arrived.

Harriet: I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve already given your table to someone else. We have a 10-minute waiting policy, and it’s already a quarter past 7:00.

Mike: This is ridiculous! We were only a few minutes late! Look, we have tickets for a play that starts at 9 p.m., so we need to finish dinner by quarter past 8:00. Are there any tables available?

Harriet: Let me check my list. Well, it seems there’s a small table available in the corner. It might be a bit crowded.

Mike: I guess that will work. Thanks, I guess.

Other Expressions With “Till”

“Quarter till” isn’t the only English expression that uses this handy preposition of time. In fact, many idioms employ “till” to explain a period of time. Here are some of the most popular English phrases that include “till.”

Till the Cows Come Home

Someone might use this expression to explain an action that someone does for a long time and will likely continue for a long time. Sometimes, it also means “until the end of the day” because cows usually come back to their farm home at the end of each day. 

For example, you can say, “My brother can play video games till the cows come home.” This means that he can play video games for a very long time, and he continues playing even though a lot of time has passed. 

Till Kingdom Come

The expression “till kingdom come” means “until the end of the world” or “always and forever.” It implies that nothing will change how the speaker feels, behaves, or believes.

For instance, imagine that you’re waiting to catch the bus. You arrived at the stop 20 minutes ago, and the bus still hasn’t come yet. You are getting bored and frustrated because you’re waiting a long time for the bus. As a result, you’re going to be late for work.

The bus finally arrives, and you get to work. Your boss is upset because you’re late! However, you can tell her, “Sorry I’m late. I had to wait till kingdom come for the bus. It arrived nearly 30 minutes late!”

When you use the phrase “till kingdom come,” your boss will immediately understand that you waited an extremely long time for the bus.

Good Till Canceled

“Good till canceled” or is a phrase that you’ll see if you’re trading stocks, bonds, or other positions on the stock market. It is a type of order that you make with the bank or trade broker (source). 

You can specify the ideal price for buying or selling a stock, and then the broker will wait for that price before they make the purchase on your behalf.

Basically, “good till canceled” means that your order will stay open until you cancel the order or it is complete. Of course, most institutions have a limit — usually around 60 days — when they will automatically cancel the order if it isn’t complete yet.

Till Someone Is Blue in the Face

You can use “till someone is blue in the face” when someone is repeating an action over and over again, without stopping, and for a long time. Check out this example:

Nico: Hi, Julie! How was the orchestra rehearsal?

Julie: It was fine, but kind of tiring. The conductor made us repeat the same piece till we were blue in the face. We must have played it more than 20 times!

Nico: Wow, that sounds like an intense rehearsal! Do you think it was helpful?

Julie: Of course, but I need to rest now. 

From the example, it’s clear that Julie had to do the same thing again and again, to the point that she thought it was excessive or more than necessary. The repetition made her tired.

You can also see from the example that you can use any form of the verb “to be” — past, present, future, and/or passive — and that you can put any pronoun or proper noun in place of “someone.” 

Till Death Do Us Part

“Till death do us part” is a phrase that you will usually hear at weddings during the vows. The couple makes promises to one another, and these promises often end with the expression “till death do us part.” 

This phrase uses an old version of English syntax. Here, the subject is “death,” the verb is “to part” (meaning “to separate”), and the object of the verb is “us.” So, in modern English, the phrase means “until death separates us.”

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When the bride and groom add this phrase to their vows, they are saying that their promises will continue until they die. “Till death do us part” means that you’re making a lifelong commitment that will finish only in death.

Final Thoughts

We use “quarter till” to explain that there are 15 minutes left until the next hour. Similarly, we can use “quarter past” to explain that 15 minutes have passed since the most recent hour.

In this expression, it’s best if you spell “till” with the double-l. “Till” is a preposition of time that has the exact same meaning as the word “until,” and it shows the amount of time between two actions or events.

In addition to “quarter till” and “quarter past,” there are a lot of phrases and idioms in English that use the preposition “till.” They all explain a length of time that starts with one action or event and ends with another action or event. 

So, the next time someone asks you the time, you can use “quarter till” to let them know that there are 15 minutes until the next hour!