Mistakes using “by” and “until”

Hi English enthusiasts! I’ve decided to start a blog correcting errors that I hear from students and other speakers of English as a foreign language day after day here in Switzerland. I hope you will join me on this journey into the foul swamps of split infinitives and false friends.

Let’s start with that old blooper:

“by” and “until”

So, you’re at work. Your boss comes in,

“I need the sales report. Have you finished it yet? I need it at four!”

You say: “It’s nearly finished, I’ll give it to you ***** four o’clock.”

What’s missing, “by” or “until”?

If you answer is “until”, we need to talk.

Let’s go to another situation. You’re in the pub with Dave. You’re talking about your bucket lists*

You say: “I’d love to go bungee jumping!”

Your friend Dave says: “I want to go bungee jumping until I’m 50.”

Really Dave?

Jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping……The WHOLE time up to your 50th birthday! Bouncing and eating, bouncing and sleeping. That doesn’t sound healthy!

No Dave, the word you need is “before”.

“I want to go bungee jumping before I’m 50,” means that you want to experience this thing one time.

At least I hope this is what you wanted to say…

So, back to the office

When you say “It’s nearly finished, I’ll give it to you until four o’clock.” It means you will spend the entire time up to four o’clock “giving it” to your Boss. I don’t know, maybe it’s got A LOT of pages…

No! Giving doesn’t take that long! If you use “until”, you mean that you will be doing the activity from right now when you are speaking up to the time, date, day etc. that you mention.

The right answer is, “I’ll give it to you before four o’clock.” You’ll finish it, and then you’ll give it to your boss ONCE some time before four.

TIPP: For this reason, verbs describing short activities such as: “to give”, “to start”, “to stop” “to enter” etc. are seldom used with the word until.

Here are some more examples. Are they correct or incorrect? (Answers at the end)       

1. I’m going to study until I get my degree.

2. I’m going to do the proficiency exam until I go back to Switzerland.

3. I’m playing tennis until four o’clock.

4. I’ll finish my tennis game until four o’clock

5. I’m going to make an appointment with my dentist until Christmas.

6. I have to renew my passport until 2030

7. I have until this Friday to apply for the job

Please leave a like or comment if you’re part of the blogging community. I’m also on the lookout for new topics, so if there’s anything you’d like me to try to clear up for you, please let me know. Let’s bash out those bloopers!

Take care

Sally

Answers: 1. Correct 2. Incorrect 3. Correct 4. Incorrect 5. Incorrect 6. Incorrect 7. Correct   

*Lists of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. (Oxford)

Image 2 by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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