What’s the Difference Between “With” and “By”?

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From the previous blog articles, we learned that prepositions are quite short words that change the meaning of the phrases they are attached to. This time, we will talk more about two prepositions that are commonly misused.

“With” and “by” are prepositions of the English language used in daily conversations. We need to be familiar with them so that we won’t be misunderstood by the people we are talking to. Many times “with” and “by” can be confusing, especially to non-native speakers. But, once you know the difference between these two prepositions, you’ll be able to use them easily in your conversations without being misunderstood by those you’re talking to.
Let us look at some examples to see how they are being used. We will use the present tense and learn from them. Let us start with the preposition “with”.

With

“With” is being used to point out the idea of being together.

Examples:

(1) “I am playing chess with my father.”

(2) “Are you going out with Andy again today?”
(3) “Is Tom with the boss right now?”
(4) “We are playing basketball with the Springfield University team every Thursday.”
(5) “These guys are pushing the car with me.”
“With” is also being used to point out something that you have or are using, is a part of your body, or something belonging to someone. See the following examples:
(1) “I am fixing the piano with these tools.” [something the subject owns]
(2) “Are you the kind of guy with fighting skills?” [a skill that the subject has]
(3) “He is praising the pageant winner with two thumbs up.” [body part]
(4) “We are pulling the car with our own hands.” [body part]
(5) “They are digging a hole with a shovel.” [a tool that the subject is using]
(6) “I am drawing a picture of you with a pencil.” [an object belonging to the subject]

By

Now we will go to the preposition “by” by using the present tense. The preposition “by” is being used to point out nearness in place, time, and relation. It also shows a method, procedure, process, or means.

Examples:

(1) “My father is sitting by my side.” [nearness in place]

(2) “He is standing by the river bank.” [nearness in place]
(3) “I am going to the airport by 8:00 o’clock in the morning.” [time]
(4) “I was inspired by your message today.” [means: in what way is the subject inspired?]

Lastly, one of the things you’ll notice about the preposition “by” is that it often has a verb that ends in “ing”.

Examples:

(5) “You need to promote our new products by using our company’s website.”

(6) “I clean the cooking utensils by using anti-bacterial liquid soap.”
(7) “The officials honored the employee for his act of heroism by giving him a medal of Valor.”
(8) “We are clearing the forest by cutting off all the trees.”

From these sentences, you can see that prepositions are indeed small words that make a big difference in any English sentence. When misused, they distort the meaning of the sentence, but when used properly, they will convey your message very clearly.


author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.