Something  will be available  by 3pm tomorrow.

mean it will become available after 3pm tomorrow, or between now and 3pm tomorrow?

I get the latter meaning, because "by" can mean the end time?


  • 2
    It will be available between now and 3pm tomorrow - see sense 7 on Collins' entry for it.
    – jimsug
    May 15, 2014 at 18:19
  • This question is possibly off-topic - questions that can be answered solely using a dictionary are off-topic on ELL.
    – jimsug
    May 15, 2014 at 18:56
  • 1
    @jimsug Can you or your dictionary explain what mccjeff said happens in real life? If no, please be modest.
    – Tim
    May 15, 2014 at 18:58
  • I think that the most important feature of "by + time" is that the speaker is telling you that you will be notified when something will be available, but in any case the time is a safe time to expect delivery. For example: an auto mechanic will often say "I'll have your car ready by 3pm" and call you at 2pm saying you can get your car now.
    – Phil
    May 15, 2014 at 19:00
  • 1
    I don't think I could find out what "by + time" means with a dictionary. If I wanted to write this in Chinese I would be over asking at Chinese SE.
    – Phil
    May 15, 2014 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


General usage of by + time

In English, the preposition "by" + time generally means:

  • not later than; before; (Collins UK, US)

Note that, while it can mean something will happen at a specific time, it almost always implied that something will happen at or before a specific time. In fact, the preposition at is exactly what you would use to specify that something will occur at a specific time and no other.

action + by + time

You can verbs because they become attributes.


  • At midnight, I ran [ten kilometres].
  • By midnight, I ran [ten kilometres].

In the first instance, the usual reading is that I started to run ten kilometres from midnight onwards.
In the second, the usual reading is that I had finished running ten kilometres before midnight.

Similarly, compare:

  • The bell rang three times at noon.
  • The bell rang three times by noon.

  • I ate three pounds of salmon at 3pm.

  • I are three pounds of salmon by 3pm.

by + state/attribute

You can use by with attributes, which can be adjectives. For instance:

  • He grew to 135cm by the age of five
  • He grew to 135cm at the age of five

In the first instance, he grows to 135cm before the age of five.
In the second instance, he became five years old, then promptly had a growth spurt and grew to 135cm in that moment.


  • I'm painting this wall. It will be red by noon.

Obviously, I'm not going to wait until noon precisely and then paint the wall entirely red - I'll be painting it, and I think I'll finish at or before noon.


Your car/fixed-jewelry/pressed-shirts will be available by 3pm tomorrow.

To put it simply, this idiomatically means:

  • Your item will not be available today.
  • Your item will be available no later than 3pm tomorrow.
  • You can plan on getting your item at 3 pm.
  • You might be able to pick it up before 3pm, but you would need to call.

Note that if you want, for some things, you can ask if they can have it earlier. For example, with prescriptions, one might be able to get it within one hour if one were to ask for that.


In modern American English when someone uses that phrase they are implying that the implied item will be available at 3pm.

For example if someone says: "You car will be ready to be picked up from the mechanic by 12pm tomorrow" they are saying that you can go pick your car up at 12pm tomorrow.

  • so it doesn't say it will be available between 3pm tomorrow till when?
    – Tim
    May 15, 2014 at 18:53
  • More accurately, I would say that it means at or before - see sense 2 in Collins' US
    – jimsug
    May 15, 2014 at 18:55
  • No. All it is saying is that the implied item will be ready at 3pm tomorrow onward. If the person said that you have until a certain time to pick the implied item up then you would have to pick the item up between 3pm(start time) and the time told told to you(end time)
    – mccjeff
    May 15, 2014 at 18:57
  • @jimsug 2 b. not later than ⇒ "be back by ten o'clock"
    – mccjeff
    May 15, 2014 at 18:58
  • It does not say before. In the US when someone says "Something will be available by 3pm tomorrow." then it is understood that the implied item will be available at 3pm.
    – mccjeff
    May 15, 2014 at 19:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .