Learn English – What does the “‑to” ending mean in most English words that end in “‑to”


Today I saw this word — hitherto — then I searched in the dictionary to
find that it means "up until that time". It looks a little weird since
my first seen, and I rarely see words ending with ‑to except to,
auto and tomato which look more normal.

I found all words ending with to from here, but this site only
says words ending with to are good for playing "Words with Friends"
word game. Maybe because my native language is not English, I know
almost nothing about all the words listed on that site, so I wonder if
the ending ‑to has some common special meaning? If yes, it can help me
to remember the words that end with to.

Best Answer

I’m not sure what you mean by asking what the meaning of words that end in -to is, because -to is not really an English suffix in the general case. As you note, it occurs in many words with no overlap in sense, like alto, auto, biscotto, burrito, canto, cornetto, ghetto, grotto, potato, lotto, magneto, mosquito, panto, photo, presto, recto, veto. Many of those derive from Latin or its children, but their -to has no meaning of its own.

Nonetheless, for your case of the adverb hitherto, there actually is something here behind it. Just as with adverbs like today, tonight, and tomorrow, the to part was originally part of a longer adverbial phrase involving a preposition that was originally worn down into a single word in examples like hereto, hereunto, hitherto, hitherunto, thereinto, thereonto, thereto, thereunto, thitherto, whereinto, whereto, whereunto, and whitherto.

In all those, to represents what was once the preposition to.