We use by in many expressions to say how we do something. For example, you can:
send something by mail
do something by hand
contact somebody by phone / by e-mail / by far
pay by check / by credit card
- Can I pay by credit card?
- You can contact me by phone, by fax, or by e-mail.
But we say pay cash or pay in cash (not by cash).
We also say by mistake / by accident / by chance:
– We hadn’t arranged to meet. We met by chance.
But we say “do something on purpose” (= you mean to do it):
– I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident.
Note that we say by chance, by check, etc. (not by the chance / by a check). In these expressions we use by + noun without “the” or “a”
In the same way, we use by … to say how somebody travels:
- Joanne usually goes to work by bus.
- Do you prefer to travel by plane or by train?
But we say on foot:
– Did you come here by car or on foot?
You cannot use by if you say my car / the train / a taxi, etc. We use by + noun without “a/the/my,” etc. We say:
by car but in my car (not by my car)
by train but on the train (not by the train)
We use in for cars and taxis:
– They didn’t come in their car. They came in a taxi.
We use on for bicycles and public transportation (buses, trains, etc.):
– We came on the 6:45 train
We say that “something is done by somebody/something” (passive):
– Have you ever been bitten by a dog?
– The program was watched by millions of people.
Compare by and with:
– The door must have been opened with a key. (not by a key)
(= somebody used a key to open it)
– The door must have been opened by somebody with a key.
We say “a play by Shakespeare” / “a painting by Rembrandt” / “a novel by Tolstoy,” etc.:
– Have you read anything by Ernest Hemingway?
By also means “next to / beside”:
– Come and sit by me. (= beside me)
– “Where’s the light switch?” “By the door.”
Note the following use of by:
– Claire’s salary has just gone up from $3,000 a month to $3,300. So it has increased by $300 / by 10 percent.
– Carl and Mike ran a 100-meter race. Carl won by about three meters.
New salary --------------------------= $ 3,300 / month ^ | salary increased by $300 | Old salary --------------------------= $ 3,000 / month