How to use “by”

1 not later than

By can mean ‘not later than’.
I’ll be home by five o’clock. (= at or before five)

  • Can I borrow your car?-: Yes, but I must have it back by tonight. (= tonight or before)

By can also suggest the idea of ‘progress up to a particular time’.

  • By the end of the meal, everybody was drunk.

Before a verb, we use by the time (that).

  • I’ll be in bed by the time you get home.
  • By the time that the guards realized what was happening, the gang were already inside the bank.

2 other meanings

By can also be used to talk about time in the rather literary expressions by day and by night (= during the day/night).

  • He worked by night and slept by day.

Note also day by day, hour by hour, etc.

  • The situation is getting more serious day by day. (= … each day.)
  • And one can pay by the hour, by the day, etc.
  • In this, a job we’re paid by the hour.
  • You can hire a bicycle by the day or by the week.

by and near

By means ‘just at the side of’; something that is by you may be closer than
something that is
near you.


  • We live near the sea. (perhaps five kilometers away)
  • We live by the sea. (We can see it.)

by (method, agent) and with (tools, etc)

the difference
By and with can both be used to say how somebody does something, but there is an important difference. We use by to talk about action – what we do to get a result. We use with to talk about a tool or other object – what we use to get a result.


– I killed the spider by hitting it. (Note the -ing form after by.)
I killed the spider with a shoe.
(NOT … by the shoe.)
– I got where I am by hard work. ~ No you didn’t. You got there on your
wife’s money.
is the opposite of both by and within these cases.

– I got her to listen by shouting.
It’s difficult to get her to listen without shouting.
– We’ll have to get it out with a screwdriver.
We can’t get it out without a screwdriver.
is also used to refer to means of transport (by bus, by train, etc).

passive clauses

In passive clauses, by introduces the agent – the person or thing that does the action.

  • I was interviewed by three directors.
  • My car was damaged by a falling branch.

We generally prefer “with” to refer to a tool or instrument used by somebody.


  • He was killed by a heavy stone. (This could mean ‘A stone fell and killed
  • He was killed with a heavy stone. (This means ‘Somebody used a stone to kill him”)

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