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.

24 Comments

Leave a comment