Ask a Teacher: The Preposition 'By'


30 November, 2018

If you can write or speak even just a little English, you have surely used prepositions -- words like "to," "in," "on," "at" and "by." A preposition is a word or group of words that shows direction, location or time. Today on Ask a Teacher, we have a question about one such word.

Question:

Hi, I'm Frank John from Tanzania. I don't how know to use "by" in a sentence. –Frank John, Tanzania

Answer:

Hello Frank!

It sounds like you know the meaning of "by" but are unsure of how to use it with other words. Let me try to help!

"By" is usually a preposition but sometimes acts as an adverb. It can be used in many ways, but today we will talk about four uses as a preposition and show you where it is placed in a sentence.

Close to / Next to

Let's start with using "by" to show place or location. When we use "by" this way, it means "close to" "next to" or "beside." Here are two examples. Note that "by" comes before the place.

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Meet me at the show! I'll be seated by the door.
The university is by the sea.

Past a place

Now for the second use. When "by" is placed after motion-related verbs -- like "run," "drive," and "walk" -- it often shows movement past a place. Let's listen:

I walked by the river on Sunday. It was a beautiful day!
Did you drive by my building today? I thought I saw you.

Not later than

Another way we use "by" is to talk about time on a clock. When we use it this way, it means "not later than." The word "by" comes before the time. Have a listen:

Your appointment is at 1:00. Please arrive by 12:45.
We should leave by 7:00 to beat the crowds.

Alone / Without help

The last use we will consider today is about doing something alone or without any help. We make this meaning with "by" followed with a reflexive pronoun, such as "myself" or "yourself."

Here are two examples:

He moved the heavy table all by himself.
I'm sorry, I couldn't go. Did you go by yourself?

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Alice Bryant.

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Words in This Story

locationn. a position or place

adverbn. a word that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree

reflexiveadj. showing that the action in a sentence happens to the person or thing that does the action