The word “by” is very common in English. It can be used in lots of different situations and contexts. It is mostly used as a preposition but it can also in fact be used as an adverb. In this article, I explain the common uses of “by” as a preposition.
“by” + place
The meaning is: beside, at the side of, next to, close to
- The house is by a river.
- David lives by a train station.
- I would love to live in a house by the sea.
“by” + method of transport
This structure describes how you travel somewhere.
by + train car boat plane taxi bus coach
- David went to Manchester by train.
- I go to work by car.
- My parents often go to France by boat.
- Our children have never travelled by plane before.
“by” + method of communication
This structure describes how you communicate with someone.
by + telephone post email fax
- I spoke to her by telephone.
- I will send you the invoice by post.
- Please confirm the order by email.
“by” + method of payment
This structure describes how you pay for something.
by + credit card cheque
- We paid for the computer by cheque.
- Can I pay by credit card?
Note that we do not use “by” for cash payments. We use the preposition “in”:
- David paid in cash for the newspaper.
It is also possible to omit the preposition completely, particularly in spoken English:
- David paid cash for the newspaper.
“by” and the passive
In the passive voice, “by” indicates WHO is doing the action.
First, let’s look at a sentence using the active voice:
- David is cleaning the kitchen.
In the above sentence, “David” is the person doing the action. When we convert this sentence to the passive voice, we say:
- The kitchen is being cleaned by David.
Here are some more examples. These are in the past tense:
- Sarah wrote the book. (active)
The book was written by Sarah. (passive)
- Our school organised the concert. (active)
The concert was organised by our school. (passive)
“by” + reflexive pronoun
by + myself yourself himself, herself, itself ourselves yourselves themselves
This structure means to do something alone.
- I enjoy reading by myself.
- Sarah is studying by herself.
- Let’s do something by ourselves.
- My parents often go on holiday by themselves.
“by” + -ING verb
This structure describes how to do something. It gives us more information about how to achieve a particular result.
- You can turn on the radio by pressing that button.
How can I turn on the radio?
by pressing the button
The phrase “pressing the button” describes how to do something (how to turn on the radio).
“by” + time expression
The meaning of this structure is: not later than; before or at a particular time
We use this structure for deadlines. A deadline is the time before which something must be done.
- Guests must vacate their hotel rooms by 11 am.
- Please send us the payment by tomorrow.
- Students must enrol by the end of June.
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