Unit 111. By and until By the time…

By (+ a time) = not later than:

  • I mailed the letter today, so they should receive it by Monday. (= on or before Monday, on Monday at the latest)
  • We’d better hurry. We have to be home by 5 o’clock (= at or before 5 o’clock, at 5 o’clock at the latest)
  • Where’s Ann? She should be here by now. (= now or before now; so she should have already arrived)

    You cannot use until with this meaning:

  • Tell me by Friday whether or not you can come to the party.
    (not Tell me until Friday)

    We use until (or till) to say how long a situation continues:

  • “Shall we go now?” “No, let’s wait until (or till) it stops raining.
  • I was tired this morning, so I stayed in bed until half past ten.

    Compare until and by in these sentences:

  • Sue will be away until Monday, (so she’ll come back on Monday)
  • Sue will be back by Monday. (= she’ll be back on or before Monday, on Monday at the latest)
  • I’ll be working until 11 o’clock, (so I’ll stop working at 11 o’clock)
  • I’ll have finished my work by 11 o’clock (= I’ll finish my work at or before 11 o’clock, at 11 o’clock at the latest)

    You can also say by the time (something happens),…. Study these examples carefully:

  • It’s not worth going shopping now. By the time we get to the stores, they will be closed. (= they will close between now and the time we get there)
  • (from a letter) I’m flying to the United States this evening. So by the time you receive this letter, I’ll probably be in New York. (= I will arrive in New York between now and the time you receive this letter.)

    When you are talking about the past, you can use By the time (something happened),

  • Tom’s car broke down on the way to the party last night. By the time he arrived, most of the guests had left. (= It took him a long time to get to the party and most of the guests left during this time.)
  • I had a lot of work to do yesterday evening. By the time I finished, I was very tired. (= It took me a long time to do the work and I became more and more tired during this time.)
  • It took them a long time to find a place to park their car. By the time they got to the theater, the play had already started.

    You can also use by then or by that time:

  • Tom finally arrived at the party at midnight. But by then (or by that time), most of the guests had left.
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