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By vs. Until

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Common mistakes

  1. (NG) I’m going to stay in this town by next Friday.
    1. (OK) I’m going to stay in this town until next Friday.
  2. (NG) Do you think you can finish until 5pm?
    1. (OK) Do you think you can finish by 5pm?

Grammar words and phrases in context

I’m working until 10pm tonight. I usually get to the office at 8:30am, and stay until 9 or 10pm. Friday is my early day because I just stay in the office until 7:30. I think these days most people usually finish work by 5 or 6pm, but I’ve heard that in some countries, people work a lot of overtime, like until 10 or 11pm.

By

Something finishes or ends by a certain time and that time is the deadline. When you finish something by a certain time, day, date, etc., you complete the action at or before the deadline. We use by with verbs that show one-time actions or verbs that mean finishing or ending. Some examples are finish by, end by, complete by, arrive by, start by, go by, leave by, etc. We use by plus one point in time:

  1. Please complete your essay by Friday.
  2. Can you finish work by 6pm tonight? If so, we can catch a movie.
  3. If we arrive at the station by 3pm, we can catch the train.
  4. We have to start the meeting by 1pm if we want to finish at 5pm.

Until

Something continues or keeps going until a certain time and that time is the deadline. When you continue something until a certain time, day, date, etc., you continue the action, stopping at the deadline. We use

until with verbs that show continuous actions. Some examples are continue until, stay until, work until, have until, do until, etc. We use until plus one point in time:

  1. Please continue working on your essay until Friday.
  2. I’m working until 6 tonight, so let’s try to catch a movie after that.
  3. We have until 3pm to arrive at the station to catch the train.
  4. I’m going to stay until Friday, so we can have a meeting any time this week.

We also use until in a negative sentence with verbs that show one-time actions or verbs that mean finishing or ending. We use until plus a subject and verb:

  1. We can’t finish this repair until the parts arrive.
  2. Let’s not begin the meeting until Jack comes.
  3. We won’t start this new marketing plan until the boss tells us to do it.
  4. The game isn’t over until it is over.

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