BY vs UNTIL is another little grammar problem in English that learners find difficult to understand.
It is especially difficult for German native-speakers to ‘get their head round’ because in German, the word ‘bis’ can mean both by AND until.
But let’s look at some clear example sentences to explain the difference. Then, please do the 10 question grammar test at the bottom of the page.
If you read everything here on the by or until problem, then I promise you that by the time you have finished reading you will understand 100%. 🙂
You use by to talk about something that will happen at or before some future time or event.
IN the first example sentence below, you can see/understand that by really means ‘before’.
Or you could change the word by for the phrase ‘not later than’.
I better go. My Dad said I have to be home by 11 o’clock.
I need to find a new flat by the end of the month.
Can you clean these trousers by tomorrow?
You need to send that email with the Q1 sales figures by the time you finish work today.
We say until to describe how long a situation will continue.
Another way to write until is till, but till is informal, so it’s probably best to always write until
I will be out of the office until August 31st.
Can I sleep on your sofa until next weekend?
I normally finish at 5 o’clock, but this week I had to work until 6pm every day.
I finished 40 minutes before the end, but I had to stay in the exam room until everyone had finished the test!
BY vs UNTIL
Another way to think of by is: ‘the last possible moment‘.
For example, if your teacher says to you, “You need to hand that assignment in by Friday at 3:30“, then 3:30pm on Friday is the last possible moment to complete your work and give it to the teacher.
Another way to think of until is: “all the time up to (a specific time)”.
For example, if it is Monday now and your friend says to you, “Can I stay at your house until Thursday?“, that means that they are asking to stay at your house all the time up to Thursday. In other words, they want to stay at your house on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
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