By: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

Last Updated on
October 9, 2023

1. By (preposition): Near or next to something or someone.
2. By (preposition): Not later than a specific time or date.
3. By (preposition): Through the action or agency of someone or something.
4. By (preposition): According to a rule, system, or standard.
5. By (preposition): Used to show the amount or degree of something.
6. By (preposition): Used to show the method or means of doing something.
7. By (adverb): Passing a point near something or someone.
8. By (adverb): To or at someone’s side; near someone.
9. By (adverb): Used to show how something is done gradually or in stages.

"By" is a frequently used word in English, taking on various roles and nuances. Whether denoting proximity, method, or passage of time, "by" enhances our language in subtle yet significant ways.

"By" Definition: What Does "By" Mean?

The word "by" serves as both a preposition and an adverb, and it brings depth to our sentences by indicating relationships, methods, or processes.

Its usage is varied:

  • Proximity: When you are "by" something, you are close to or beside it.
  • Time: Events happening "by" a certain hour means they happen before or at that time.
  • Agent or Means: If something is done "by" someone, it indicates who did it or what method was used.
  • Standard: Living "by" a rule means following that guideline.
  • Measure: Increasing sales "by" 10% indicates the amount of growth.
  • Manner: Doing something bit "by" bit means doing it gradually.

Parts of Speech

The word "by" can function as a preposition, indicating relationships or methods, or as an adverb, suggesting proximity or manner.

How to Pronounce "By"?

It's a short word pronounced in a single syllable. By" rhymes with "my" or "fly."

Phonetic Pronunciation: baɪ

Synonyms of "By": Other Ways to Say "By"

Though "by" is a unique word with varied uses, in some contexts, there are words that can serve as alternatives:

  • Beside
  • Via
  • Through
  • Near
  • Past

Examples of "By" in a Sentence

The word "by" enriches sentences by adding clarity, direction, or emphasis.

Here are ten sentences that demonstrate its different contexts:

1. He waved a white flag by the window.
2. She completed the project by the given deadline.
3. She stood by the window and glared at him.
4. His plans were gone for a toss by the unexpected storm.
5. She won by a huge margin in the competition.
6. He sent the letter by air mail.
7. The car sped by, leaving a trail of dust behind.
8. Stay by my side; we'll face this together.
9. Sucks to be you, by the way. You missed a great party.
10. He goes to the gym day by day, committed to his fitness.

Frequency of Use

The word "by" is a cornerstone of the English language and occupies an integral position in our daily speech and writing. Its applications are myriad—whether pinpointing a location, setting a deadline, or expressing a method. Given its utility, "by" consistently appears in various spoken and written English contexts. In word frequency assessments, "by" often secures a position within the top 50 most used words.

Variants of "By"

When considering "variants" of the word, we might look at its different forms in compound words, phrasal verbs, or idiomatic expressions. Some variants or related terms that include "by" are:

1. Bypass: A road passing around a town or its center to provide an alternative route for through traffic.
2. Bygone: A thing dating from an earlier time.
3. By and by: An idiomatic expression meaning after a while or soon.

Related Terms to "By"

"By" relates to various terms and phrases in English, denoting proximity, methods, agents, and more. Some of these include:

1. Beside
2. Alongside
3. Via
4. Through
5. Near
6. Beside
7. Past

Etymology: History and Origins of "By"

The word "by" has its origins in Old English, where it was spelled as either "be-" when unstressed or "bi" when stressed. It initially meant "near, in, by, during, about" and has Proto-Germanic roots. The term comes from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "around." Originally, "by" was an adverbial particle of place, and this sense still survives in place names like "Whitby" and "Grimsby." Over the centuries, the word has acquired numerous definitions and uses. For example, the phrase "by and by" originally meant "one by one," but its modern sense of "before long" emerged in the 1520s. Another phrase, "by and large," has nautical origins and originally meant "sailing to the wind and off it," which eventually led to its current meaning of "in general.

Derivatives and Compounds of "By"

The word "by" has spawned a few derivatives and compounds that encompass or allude to its core meanings.

1. Byway: A lesser-traveled road or route.
2. Byline: A line in a newspaper or magazine naming the author of an article.
3. Byproduct: An incidental or secondary product made in manufacturing something else.

Common Misspellings of "By"

Given that "by" is a short and simple word, it's rarely misspelled. Yet, in some contexts or due to typos, errors might occur.

Here's a possible erroneous spelling of "by":

1. Bie
2. Bye

10 Idioms Similar to "By"

There are numerous idioms in English that employ the word "by," each capturing unique nuances and expressions.

1. By the skin of one's teeth
2. By the book
3. By and large
4. By leaps and bounds
5. By the same token
6. By all means
7. By the wayside
8. By heart
9. By the numbers
10. By the seat of one's pants

10 Common Questions About "By"

The word "by" intrigues many, prompting questions about its usage, meanings, and contexts.

1. How is "by" used to indicate agents in passive sentences?

"By" introduces the agent or doer in passive voice sentences, such as "The book was written by the author."

2. Can "by" be used to express time?

Yes, "by" can denote a deadline, as in "Submit the assignment by Friday."

3. What does "by" mean in terms of location?

"By" can indicate proximity, as in "The shop is by the station."

4. How does "by and by" differ from "by"?

"By and by" is an idiomatic expression meaning "after a while" or "soon", whereas "by" has various meanings, including nearness and method.

5. How does "by" function in percentages or measurements?

In such cases, "by" indicates an increase or decrease, such as "Sales grew by 10%."

6. How is "by" used in transportation contexts?

"By" can indicate a mode of transport, as in "We traveled by train."

7. Can "by" denote methods or means?

Yes, "by" can express methods, like "Send it by email."

8. What does "by heart" mean?

"By heart" means to memorize something completely.

9. Can "by" be used as an adverb?

Yes, "by" can function as an adverb, as in "The years went by quickly."

10. How does "by the book" relate to rules or procedures?

"By the book" implies doing something strictly according to rules or procedures.


The term "by" is versatile, conveying proximity, method, agency, and time, among other meanings. Familiarity with "by" and its applications enriches language comprehension and usage. Delve deeper into our definitions section to unearth more insights and improve your vocabulary.

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