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To me, "until what time" and "how late" seem to have the same exact meaning and can be used interchangeably. For example, the following pairs of sentences illustrate some usages that seem the same to me:

  • a1) Until what time were you at work last night?
    a2) How late were you at work last night?

  • b1) Until what time did you stay at work last night?
    b2) How late did you stay at work last night?

  • c1) Until what time did you work last night?
    c2) How late did you work last night?

  • d1) Until what time can I call you?
    d2) How late can I call you?

Am I correct that these phrases are exactly the same? If not, why?

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  • 1
    Although you can front until what time, it'd be more usual to front only what time and leave until stranded: "What time did you work until last night?"
    – user230
    Apr 21, 2014 at 11:03
  • D1 isn't quite as good as A1-C1 because the duration of calling is very short, and you wouldn't "call someone until 8PM", for example. In contrast, being at work, staying at work, and working can stretch on for hours and hours.
    – user230
    Apr 21, 2014 at 11:07
  • Anyway you don't mean D1 is incorrect; am I right? Meanwhile how would bee better if I want to rephrase D1 (if it needs to be rewritten)?
    – A-friend
    Apr 22, 2014 at 9:59
  • I don't mean that it's incorrect. It can be interpreted in a way that makes sense. I wouldn't say it, though. D2 is fine and natural.
    – user230
    Apr 22, 2014 at 10:00
  • Thank you @snailplane. But do you confirm my idea? I guess they all mean exactly the same thing, but the only difference between the sentences of each group is their formality level. Right? :)
    – A-friend
    Apr 22, 2014 at 10:08

1 Answer 1

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There's nothing specifically wrong with any of those examples. There are three notable differences between using "until" vs. "how late":

  1. Until is more formal and is soliciting a specific time, such as 3AM.
  2. "How late" is less formal and an estimate is appropriate, such as 'sometime after 3'.
  3. In these examples, "until" is not relative to anything. "How late" suggests someone was either working past their normal time or late at night.
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  • Thank you @boatseller. But you didn't confirm! Are they identical in meaning? I think the answer is 'yes', but the only difference is the formality level of each one as you mentioned. Am I right? :)
    – A-friend
    Apr 22, 2014 at 10:05
  • There are these three differences, at least, so no, they are not identical.
    – DTRT
    Apr 22, 2014 at 10:24
  • Just by saying: ("How late" suggests someone was either working past their normal time or late at night.) did you mean less than their normal working hours or more than their working hours?
    – A-friend
    Apr 22, 2014 at 10:44
  • Past their normal quitting time, which suggests overtime, but not necessarily.
    – DTRT
    Apr 22, 2014 at 10:47

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