8 Ways to Use the Preposition “by”Andrew Forrester
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.