Meaning of “by” in the English Dictionary

"by" in British English

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bypreposition

uk /baɪ/ us /baɪ/

by preposition (AGENT)

A2 used to show the person or thing that does something:

The motorcycle was driven by a tiny bald man.
We were amazed by what she told us.
I'm reading some short stories (written) by Chekhov.
The book was translated by a well-known author.
I felt frightened by the anger in his voice.

More examples

  • The roof of the temple was held up by a row of thick stone columns.
  • The girl's mother was at home today, being comforted by relatives.
  • The English were conquered by the Normans in 1066.
  • The temperature is controlled by a thermostat.
  • Any painting by Van Gogh is worth a fortune.

by preposition (METHOD)

A2 used to show how something is done:

She did the decorating (all) by herself (= alone, without help from anyone).
We went in by (= through) the front door.
Do you want to be paid in cash or by cheque?
He learned English by listening to the radio.
Suddenly, she grabbed him by the arm (= took hold of this part of his body).

More examples

  • She cheated in the test by copying from the boy in front.
  • I don't have any cash on me, so could I pay by cheque?
  • Whenever I travel by train, I always travel first class.
  • He managed to stay afloat by holding on to the side of the boat.
  • The pilot avoided a collision by changing course.

by preposition (POSITION)

B1 near or at the side of:

He wanted to keep her close by him always.
The policewoman walked by (= past) them without saying a word.

More examples

  • We spent a week by the coast.
  • He held my arms down by my sides.
  • He has a house down by the harbour.
  • She sat reading by the fireside.

by preposition (NOT LATER THAN)

A2 not later than; at or before:

She had promised to be back by five o'clock.
The application must be in by the 31st to be accepted.
By the time I got to the station the train had already gone.

More examples

  • We are committed to withdrawing our troops by the end of the year.
  • All contributions for the school magazine must be received by 1 August.
  • We need a firm decision by the end of the week.
  • I've got to be home by seven.
  • I aim to be a millionaire by the time I'm 35.

by preposition (MEASUREMENT)

B2 used to show measurements or amounts:

Our office floor space measured twelve metres by ten (= was twelve metres in one direction and ten in the other).
Their wages were increased by 15 percent.
Freelance workers are paid by the hour (= for every hour they work).
These phones have sold by the thousand (= several thousand have been sold).
minute by minute/hour by hour/day by day, etc. also by the minute/hour/day, etc.

used to say that something increases or changes with every minute, hour, day, etc. that passes:

The death toll from the hurricane was climbing minute by minute/by the minute.
The credibility of the campaign has deterioriated month by month/by the month.
minute-by-minute/hour-by-hour, etc.

describing or showing what happens every minute, hour, etc.:

a minute-by-minute timeline of the incident
The book paints a detailed, week-by-week portrait of his father's illness.
by nature, profession, trade, etc.

used when describing someone's character, job, etc.:

She is, by nature, a sunny, positive kind of person.
He's a plumber by trade.
She was, by profession, a lawyer.

byadverb

uk /baɪ/ us /baɪ/

Idiom(s)

(Definition of “by” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"by" in American English

See all translations

bypreposition

us /bɑɪ/

by preposition (CAUSE)

used to show the person or thing that causes something to happen or to exist:

The car was driven by a short, bald man.
I’m reading some short stories by Chekhov.
I took her umbrella by mistake.

by preposition (METHOD)

used to show how something is done:

They thought about flying to Boston but decided to go by car.
She did the repair work by herself (= without help).
Do you want to be paid in cash or by check?

by preposition (ACCORDING TO)

according to:

By my watch, it’s 2 o’clock.
The students were listed by name.

by preposition (NOT LATER THAN)

not later than; at or before:

She promised to be back by 10 p.m.

by preposition (MEASUREMENT)

used to show measurements or amounts:

Their wages increased by 12%.
The room measures 15 feet by 20 feet.

by preposition (DURING)

during:

We traveled by night and rested by day.

bypreposition, adverb [ not gradable ]

us /bɑɪ/

by preposition, adverb [ not gradable ] (NEAR)

near, beside, or (in distance or time) past:

Claire waved as she drove by.
As time went by, she became more attached to him.

(Definition of “by” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)