What Part of Speech Is “By”?

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It’s great to know how to use different parts of speech in English: Nouns name people, places, things, and ideas; adjectives describe nouns; and adverbs modify adjectives and verbs. Understanding these functions will ensure that your sentences are grammatically sound.

But sometimes, a word can be different parts of speech. By is one of these flexible words. Below, we’ll discuss how to use by in a sentence as an adverb, a preposition, or a noun.

What part of speech is by?

By can be an adverb, a preposition, or a noun. Depending the part of speech, by can mean different things. It can mean according to (preposition), to go past (adverb), or something that is being passed over (noun). You can also use it to identify the agency performing an action; indicate the means of achieving something; indicate the size of a margin; indicate a time limit; or indicate the location of something (all prepositions).

Here are examples of each meaning:

  • By my calculations, we can climb Half Dome in eleven hours.
  • The hummingbird flew by me.
  • The window was opened by the intruder.
  • The only way to win the marathon is by running the fastest.
  • They have to improve their performance by 15 percent.
  • We’ll be there by midnight.
  • The chair is by the desk.

By as an adverb

Adverbs describe a verb, adjective, or adverbial phrase.

The man leaped backward and quickly walked away.

Backward is an adverb that describes the verb leaped, and quickly is an adverb that describes the verb walked.

By is a sneaky adverb because it can change meanings depending on what it modifies.

Definitions of by as an adverb include these:

To point toward where a verb takes place.

She stopped by the grocery store on her way home from work.

This usage can also be shortened when the place is obvious to the listener.

Jane’s dad stopped by while she was at work.

In this case, by points to Jane’s house.

To show movement from one time or place to the next.

The summer has flown by.

We pulled over as the firetruck sped by.

By as a preposition

You are most likely to encounter by as a preposition. Prepositions are some of the most common—and most confusing—parts of the English language.

Prepositions connect a noun or pronoun to another word in a sentence. Since they are used as connections, prepositions are commonly confused with conjunctions. But like with, at, and from, by is a preposition, not a conjunction.

Like all prepositions, the exact meaning of by depends on the context of the sentence. Some common uses of by as a preposition are these:

To indicate a person or thing behind an action.

The meteorologist was surprised by the sudden storm.

To show how something is done.

They cooled the house down by turning on the fan and opening the windows.

To mean in the vicinity of or near.

Their shoes are by the door.

To do something no later than a specific time.

The rent payment is due by 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month.

To be in conformity with.

Even though he hated losing, he always played by the rules.

In math, to show a relationship in multiplication or division.

Multiply the number of drinks by the number of guests, and you’ll understand why the wedding was so expensive.

Merriam-Webster lists eleven definitions of by as a preposition. You can try to memorize them all, but the best way to understand by is to read and listen closely. You’ll start to understand the patterns little by little.

By as a noun

As a noun, by can mean either something of secondary importance or something that is being passed over.

For example, by, or bye, is commonly used in sports to describe a week in a team’s schedule with no games. The schedule, in a sense, is passing over games. These weeks are called by weeks.

A few more uses for by

Here are some common places where you’ll see the word by:

To show authorship.

Moby Dick is by Herman Melville.

To interject.

By the way, the car is in parking lot F.

In the phrases:

By the seat of one’s pants (doing something based on instinct)

By and by (after a while, eventually)

By and large (generally, for the most part)

By heart (memorized)

By the book (following the rules)


What part of speech is by?

By is a flexible word that can be different parts of speech. The most common uses of the word by are as an adverb or preposition. By is also occasionally used as a noun and appears in various phrases.

What are examples of by as a noun?

By as a noun means something that is secondary or passed over. It is most commonly used in sports to indicate a week without a game.

What are examples of by as an adverb?

By as an adverb is commonly used to modify a verb by pointing toward a place or showing movement. For example, if the neighbors stopped by, the word by acts as an adverb pointing toward the house the neighbors stopped at.

What are examples of by as a preposition?

By has many meanings as a preposition (Merriam-Webster lists eleven). Some common uses of by as a preposition are to show how something is done (for example, the drink was cooled by ice), to indicate proximity (the dog leash is by the door), and to indicate a time limit (the homework assignment is due by Friday).

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