Saturday, October 6

By or Until?


Take a look at this sentence:

I have to pay him back until Friday.

Do you think this sentence is right?

If not, why not?


The answer is No, the sentence is wrong:

I have to pay him back until Friday. = X

It should be:

I have to pay him back by Friday. = Ok



The PrepositionUntil” has the meaning of continued action. In other words, it stretches the meaning of your Verb.

So, if you say:

I’m going to study until midnight.

This is the meaning:

In the diagram, you can see that the action of the Verb will be extended. You will keep on studying and stop at midnight.

Similarly, if you say:

I have to pay him back until Friday. = X

This means you will keep on paying him until Friday. On Friday, you will stop paying him:

This is wrong.

The Meaning of “By”

On the other hand, “By” means “on or before that date” or “no later than.”

This is the meaning of “By” that’s why it’s often used to talk about deadlines and expiration dates.

Deadline” means a time limit. The time limit to hand in homework at school or a report at work, for example.  

About “expiration date,” try and check certain items or products that you have bought.

Expiration date” means the latest date that you can consume – eat or use – that product. If you consume the product later than its expiration date, it might not be effective or, worse, you will get poisoned:

image courtesy of stock.xchng

You can usually find the expiration date at the top or at the bottom of the item that you want to buy. For example, here in the case of a cup of instant noodles:

The expiration date reads “22.05.2013.” That means: “22 May 2013.”

In other words,

This cup of noodles has to be eaten by May 22nd next year. I can eat it any time before May 22nd or on May 22nd itself, but not later.

WARNING: Imported goods (products that come from other countries) sometimes differ in terms of how their expiration dates are written. So, when in doubt, double-check for your safety!

Going back, if you say:

I have to pay him back by Friday. = Ok

It means:

I can pay him on Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or on Friday itself. I will pay him only one time. But this one time shouldn’t be later than Friday.


Actually, you can make 2 sentences with very similar meanings using both “By” and “Until.” But you have to change the Verb a little because, like what we discussed, “By” and “Until” have different meanings. 

You can say for example:

I will finish it by October 15. = I will work on it until October 15.

I’m going to sleep by 10 pm. = I’m going to study until 10 pm.

She will go back to Japan by the end of the month. = She will stay here until the end of the month.

As you can see, it basically depends on which Verb you are using.

And so:

I have to pay him back by Friday. = I have until Friday to pay him back.

Hope you learned something! 

Keep on learning !

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