10 “BY” Idioms and Phrases – English Idiom Lesson

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Are you ready to learn more idioms? The preposition by can be found in a number of idioms and phrases, so for today’s English lesson, let’s have a look at ten of them! Remember, using idioms is a great way to make your language sound more natural.

When you do something by accident or by mistake, it means it was not your intention to do it:

  • I left my hat on the subway by accident.
  • I left my hat on the subway by mistake.
  • I found a new pizza shop by accident when I took a different route home from the office.
  • I found a new pizza shop by mistake when I took a different route home from the office.

When you do something or make something by hand, you do that without using machines:

  • I like to make pizza dough by hand.
  • Yuki is a designer and she makes jewelry by hand.

When you learn something by heart, it means that you learn it and you know it from memory:

  • Idioms can be tricky, so you need to learn them by heart.
  • The actors learned her lines by heart and passed her audition.

When you do something by yourself, you do it alone.

  • Jack couldn’t go to the party with me, so I went by myself.
  • I don’t know how, but finally I was able to fix the computer by myself.

We use the phrase by the way, to introduce a new topic into the conversation.

  • We had a great time at the baseball game. By the way, what time is the meeting tomorrow?
  • How was your trip to Boston? I want to hear all about it. By the way, your sister is coming to visit us next weekend.

The phrase by the time means when.

  • I worked late last night, so by the time I got to the party, most of the food was gone.
  • By the time I noticed my bag was open, I had already lost my wallet.

When something does something by itself, it does that thing automatically.

  • This coffee maker turns off by itself after 30 minutes.
  • This new self-driving car can basically drive you somewhere by itself.

When something happens by the skin of your teeth, it barely happens and almost didn’t happen.

  • Jack was a lazy student, and graduated high school by the skin of his teeth.
  • I passed the exam by the skin of my teeth.

When you do something by the book, you follow the rules carefully.

  • The new manager runs the office by the book. She’s not flexible.
  • Jane is a good cook, but she just does it by the book. She can’t make any original dishes.