'By' or 'with' or 'at'...ahhhh!!

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

Prepositions...they may just be the smallest words in the English language, but yet they seem to offer the most difficulty when trying the learn how to use them. My students this week were having a particularly stressful time with 'by', so I have prepared an explanation to try to clear the brain fog around 'by'. As I said to them, keep reading the examples, keep making up little sentences in your head, keep persevering, because when you can master the use of prepositions, you will definitely start to sound a lot more like a local.


By – pronounce ‘ bai’

As a preposition of place ‘by’ means ‘at the side of something’ or ‘very near something’. It actually refers to something being closer than if it’s ‘near’.


For example – We live by the ocean. (We can probably see the ocean.)

We live near the ocean. (It’s possible we live a couple of kilometres away.)

Your glasses are by your bed. (They are next to your bed.)

Your glasses are near your bed. (They can be on your desk or on the floor.)


'By' and ‘with’ can be confused. 'By' refers to the action taken to get a result. ‘With’ refers to what is used to get a result.

For example - I passed my VCE by studying really hard.

I passed my VCE with the help of great teachers.

I bought the car by working many extra shifts.

I bought the car with the money I earned.


As a preposition of time ‘by’ means ‘no later than’.

For example - I’ll be home by 2 o’clock. (either before or at 2 o’clock.)

You must be home by dinner time. (either sometime before or at dinner.)


It can also refer to the duration of time up to a specific time.

For example - By the time the movie ended, he was asleep.

I will be in bed by the time you finish work.


'By' can also be used in a literal sense regarding time.

For example - He is so sick, we are taking it day by day. (meaning each day as it comes.)

In this job I get paid by the hour. (each hour I work is counted.)


As a passive clause, 'by' refers to the person or thing that does an action.

For example -I read the book written by your mother.

That new movie by Tarantino is fantastic!


Don't forget, 'bye' (same pronunciation, different spelling) is a key word in our social language. Attached to good, 'goodbye' is a formal greeting when leaving people. 'Bye' is less formal and fine for friends, and 'bye-bye' is also ok used among friends but more commonly said to children.


So take care, stay warm and 'bye' for now!


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