since 1997, the world's premier FREE website for learners + teachers of English

8 Ways to Use the Preposition “by”

byThe 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

examples:

  • 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

examples:

  • 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

examples:

  • 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

examples:

  • 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.

examples:

  • 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.

example:

  • You can turn on the radio by pressing that button.

question:
How can I turn on the radio?

answer:
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.

examples:

  • Guests must vacate their hotel rooms by 11 am.
  • Please send us the payment by tomorrow.
  • Students must enrol by the end of June.
Written by Andrew Forrester for EnglishClub May 2017
Andrew obtained the TESOL qualification in 2003 and has many years' teaching experience. He is the owner of CrownAcademyEnglish.

23 Comments on “8 Ways to Use the Preposition “by””

  1. Yelena Hopper says:

    Thanks for sharing your wealthy information.I get a help from your article.
    If you want to know about it, you should go through preposition phrase.It is helpful to you.

  2. Sabiratou SALAMI says:

    useful thank you

  3. GR says:

    Wow!
    This webpage describes “How to use “by”” so easily and clearly for beginner.

    Thanks so much.

  4. Victor C says:

    Awesome

  5. jose says:

    Very useful topic about the way of using the preposition By in a contex.

  6. jose says:

    It is very useful to learn how to manage these 8 applications of BY preposition, thanks

  7. Vicky Llorente says:

    Hello:
    Thanks for this interesting article; it was very useful for me.
    I hope to continue receiving more articles like this.

    Vicky

  8. Vicky Llorente says:

    Hello:

    Thanks for this interesting article; it was very useful for me.
    I hope to continue receiving articles like this.

  9. Roman Tcymbal says:

    That’s good deal!

    Roman!

  10. vajira says:

    sir,
    i m relay interesting to learn grammar. Avery day i watch your video clip. its so interesting. every day i,ll practice it.

    thank you.
    vajira

  11. abouabdelmajid says:

    very clear and helpfull

  12. Romanita says:

    Very helpfull

  13. Bander says:

    Great!!
    This kind of article will help alot of people to understand the using of by.
    I realy enjoyed with the way you explain this article.
    Thanks alot English club.

  14. Arif Kamal khan says:

    It was a productive article.we enjoyed reading it .Thanks to both of you for writing such an exceptional and worth reading articles.

  15. Anita says:

    @Paul Adams
    “Come by” and “drop by” are perfectly good English but I think the “by” here is an adverb not a preposition. Prepositions have objects. In your examples the “by” qualifies the verb 🙂

  16. Don AVE says:

    THank you Mr Josef,Mr Andrew and English Club as a whole. i really appreciate it.

  17. Kien says:

    It is useful. So i hope that i will be get more great guidances from you. Thank you so much!
    Kien Doan

  18. Rahul says:

    You can also say
    What’s the time by your watch?

  19. Bijan says:

    Greetings,
    Wow!
    It is very nice lesson. I myself had many problems for using “by” as a preposition.
    I had never seen like this lesson in any website.
    Thanks to English Club for presenting these beautiful lessons.
    Thanks to Sir Josef for sending me emails about these lessons.

    I hope Sir Josef to visit IRAN one day and take him to historical places of my country like Persepolis.

    Best wishes,
    Bijan from The Persian Gulf,

  20. Elias Gasparini says:

    Great for students as well as for teachers.

    I must just thank you!

  21. Paul Adams says:

    While reading the description of the article, I tried to think about various uses.

    Having read it, I realised that I know of one use that was not directly covered. It relates to first use, but lacks the actual place, or splits the place from the occurrence of “by”.

    Examples:
    . Why don’t you drop by and see for yourself?
    . I will be at home, if you want to come by.

    Given how confusing this construct must appear to non-English speakers, I thought that it was worth mentioning.

    Having written this, I have realised that the expression “come by” itself has at least two meanings.

    The first is as shown in the second example above, meaning “come to where I am”.

    The second means to acquire or obtain, which seems to relate to the meaning of “near”:

    Examples:
    . I will give it to you if I come by one.

    I am not certain that this use is “good English”, but it is certainly used on occasions.

  22. Lorena says:

    Great examples, clear and understandable. I have a better idea about how to use the preposition “by”.

    Thank you

    Lori

  23. John Smith says:

    I like the style. It’s clear, easy to understand and to pass on to others in the classroom and elsewhere.

    Thank you,

    JS

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below