Which choice fits the best for my example below:

I waited for you (...) 12 o’clock, but you didn't come (...), so I got on a taxi and left.
a) until / until that time
b) until / by that time
c) by / until that time
d) by / by that time

For me all of these choices work, but I'm sure one of them is the most natural one.

1 Answer 1


In the first clause, only until is permissible, not by.

I waited for you until 12 o'clock.

In the second clause, only by then suits the context. Until then would imply that "you" did come at 12 o'clock.

You didn't come until then, so I was pretty angry when you arrived.

However, the simple past is unlikely; you should have a past perfect, because you are speaking of the 'state' current at 12 o'clock which caused you to leave:

You hadn't come by then, so I got on a taxi and left.

  • Thanks StoneyB But three more questions: First: do you mean I have to use "until then" and "by then" instead of "until that time" and "by that time"? Second: Do you mean using "until then" in this specific context means that he finally arrived, while using "by then" means he didn't arrive at all? Why in the first clause the only possible word is "until" or rather why "by" doesn't work?
    – A-friend
    Apr 12, 2014 at 22:58
  • @A-friend: In this context then and that time are equivalent; you may use either. Until marks the endpoint of a telic verb (an activity or state, see this ELL link), so did not come until 12:00 means that 12:00 was the endpoint of his not coming. By marks the 'deadline' for telic verbs, so it cannot be used with wait, which is a non-telic activity. Apr 12, 2014 at 23:29
  • thanks for the link; I read it, but there was nothing about the verb "wait" as a telic / nnon-telic verb.
    – A-friend
    Apr 13, 2014 at 0:14
  • @A-friend Well, no; but telic and non-telic are defined there. I can't very well list all the verbs in English and tell you what their lexical aspects are ... I'm an old man and I doubt I'm going to live that long! Wait is an activity verb, and activity verbs are +DURATION -TELICITY Apr 13, 2014 at 0:19
  • 1
    @Jim Me, too. Or "but you never came, so..." Apr 13, 2014 at 1:43

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