The word "by" is a preposition that is used when something is close in distance:

Look at the picture below:

man in uniform There’s a man in uniform standing by the staircase.

Where is he? He’s by the staircase. He’s near the staircase. Use the word "by" as a preposition to describe proximity (closeness). Here are some more examples:

  • Jim lives by Sara. (He lives near her.)
  • The grocery store is by the gas station. (It’s near the gas station.)
  • If you drive by the store, pick up some milk. (If you are near the store…)

This page has many more examples if you click on the link.

We also use "by" when making a sentence in the passive voice. Here are some examples:

  • The house was built by the homeowner. (Who built the house? The homeowner built it.)
  • Some very good questions are asked by my students. (Who asks the questions? The students ask them.)
  • Some loud noises are being made by the people who live next door. (Who’s making the noise? It’s the people who live next door.)

You’ll often hear the word "by" at the end of a sentence or a question:

  • Excuse me. Can I get by? (I need more room to pass you.)
  • They live close by. (They are close.)
  • Those are good principles to live by.

"By" is commonly used with reflexive pronouns. When you combine "by" and "myself," "yourself," "himself," etc., it means that something is done alone or without help:

  • She completed the project by herself.
  • He lives by himself.
  • You learned how to fix your car all by yourself.

You can also use the word "by" when talking about the author of a piece of writing or the group that composed a piece of music:

  • This is a great song. Who is it by?
  • I like to read literature written by British authors.
  • Have you ever read a book written by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Click here to find more words to study.

First published December 4, 2011

Updated December 26, 2018