Do we always use past tense with "until" plus time in the past, and past perfect with "by" plus time in the past?

  1. Until last year, Anna worked as a teacher.

  2. By last year, Anna had worked as a teacher.

Can we use past simple for "by", or past perfect for "until" in the sentences above?


Until as a preposition means upto the point in time or the event mentioned.

Until now I have lived with my parents.
I was employed by a manufacturing company until 1999.

Therefore you can say-

Until last year Anna had worked as a teacher.

**by ** is usually used to define a deadline.
e.g. Can you finish the work by 5 o'clock. The sentence

By last year, Anna had worked as a teacher.

Is not idiomatic.

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  • Cambridge dictionary uses this sentence with until with past simple-Cambridge online dictionary, grammar part- but when it comes to by it uses past perfect. Moreover, it uses before in this case with past simple too. Logically, it should be past perfect, but I don't know why It happened there. – amir rezvanfar Mar 24 '19 at 4:31
  • Can you provide the link – Kshitij Singh Mar 24 '19 at 4:36
  • It says : he was a headteacher until he retired in 1980. – amir rezvanfar Mar 24 '19 at 5:24
  • No one left the room until the talk ended. – amir rezvanfar Mar 24 '19 at 5:25

If you are describing a continuing activity that took place until a certain point in the past (and then stopped), you should use past progressive:

Until last year, Anna was working as a teacher.

If it is an activity that was already completed at a certain point in the past, you should use past perfect. The proposition "by" is very common in this situation:

By the beginning of the year, Anna had bought everything she needed for school.

But there are also past perfect sentences without it:

She found out the name of the song she had heard on the radio.

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  • I think it couldn't be past continuous because it started at a point and continued up to the last year. – amir rezvanfar Mar 24 '19 at 4:33
  • That is one of the usages of past continuous. See for example "The audience was applauding until he fell off the stage" (here). – laugh salutes Monica C Mar 24 '19 at 15:44

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