By or Until?


Today we want to quickly tackle some common misunderstandings caused by these two tricky words…

Firstly, it is important that we understand both of the words by and until indicate “any time before, but not later than”.

Although until and by both specify “not later than”…

Until focuses on how long a situation continues.

We use until when something happens up to a particular time, but then stops at that time.

For example:

  • I am working in Bologna until Wednesday = I am currently in Bologna working but this situation will only continue up to Wednesday.
  • The Leadership Team has given us until April 10th to finalise our proposals = We have from now up to April 10th to complete the proposal.
  • I need the company laptop until Friday = I already have the company laptop but I need to keep it up to Friday.

We can also use until in negative sentences:

  • The insight report will not be available until April 20th = April 20th will be the earliest you can expect to see the insight report.

By focuses on a deadline or the end of a particular time period.

We use by to indicate that something will be, or must be, completed at, or before, a particular time, and no later.

For example:

  • I need you to email your report by close of business on Friday = The report must be sent on or before close of business Friday, and no later.
  • I must finish this report by Thursday = Thursday is the final deadline for the report.
  • The report should have been sent to me by now = It should already be here with me.

Now you have practiced some short examples and understand the behaviour and placement of the two words by and until think about some of the different meanings in the below examples:

  • I need the insight report by Wednesday = Someone else has it and I need to receive it from them.
  • I need to keep hold of the insight report until Wednesday = I already have the report and would like to keep it up to Wednesday.
  • need to be at the meeting by 1pm = I am not at the meeting but have to go to the meeting before or at 1pm.
  • I need to be at the conference until 2pm = I am at the conference and can’t leave before 2pm.

Be sure to check out the below slide for some top line guidelines and examples!