How to Use WITH & BY ⚡️English Prepositions | Common Grammar Mistakes

Lesson Overview

WITH & BY Do you know how to use these English prepositions correctly?

Today, you’ll practise how to use the prepositions ‘with’ and ‘by’ correctly in English sentences.

Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there, I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! In this lesson, we’ll go over these two prepositions. Now, if you’re a little confused by prepositions that’s totally normal! Wait a second, I could also say: If you’re feeling frustrated with prepositions, you’re definitely not alone. It’s a little tricky, right? Are both of those sentences right? Does the meaning change? So both of these sentences are perfectly fine but let’s find out a little more about how to use these little but important English prepositions correctly. Hold tight!

Prepositions are, well, they’re just annoying little buggers! They’re such tiny words, yet they influence your sentence significantly. When they’re used correctly, they can make your English sound more advanced. They can help you to sound more natural and more fluent when you’re speaking which of course, is exactly what you’re aiming for.

But, if they’re used incorrectly, well these errors are quite obvious to native English speakers. And these mistakes, they actually reduce the quality of your English. And sometimes it can also mean that you’re misunderstood – the meaning’s not clear. So you probably know that there’s lots of prepositions in English. in, on, at, by, between, over, under, for.. I could keep going but you get the point.

Actually when you get the chance, you can review this playlist right here, it’s full of my lessons about prepositions.

One problem that my students have with prepositions from their own native language is that they don’t translate perfectly into English so they end up using the wrong preposition and it becomes a bit of a habit, right? Which is why it’s really important to study and practise prepositions in context, so using books, blog posts and other texts. They’re really great places to really try and understand English prepositions and see them, how they’re used naturally.

In this lesson, I’ll go over the prepositions ‘with’ and ‘by’. So we’ll talk about the general rules and the uses for each of those prepositions. We’ll also talk about how both of them could be used in the same sentence. And later on, later in the lesson, I’ll test you on what you’ve learnt so make sure you stick around until the end of the lesson so we can practise a little together, right?


Cool! So let’s start with ‘with’. So, ‘with’ can actually mean all of these different things as a preposition. But let’s just start with the first one for now. You can use ‘with’ when you’re talking about people, or things being together. So if you’re with someone, then you’re probably in the same place as them.

  • I was with Jane yesterday when the accident happened.

This means I was physically in the same place as Jane yesterday while the accident was happening. Now this could be people or objects, so two objects or things that are with each other are also together.

  • I like to eat my burger with mustard.

When I eat a burger I put mustard on it and I eat the burger and the mustard together, right?

So ‘with’ means physically in the same place. There’s one exception though, this is an informal usage but a very, very common one. Two people that are together or with each other, well this can actually mean that they’re in a romantic relationship or they’re dating.

  • Chris has been with Jane since that party last year.

So Chris and Jane probably haven’t been physically in the same location since last year, but they have been together in a relationship. Now this usage, it’s quite contextual, you kind of need the other information in the sentence to help you recognise the meaning. So here’s a couple more examples.

  • How long have you been with your boyfriend?

So this is that informal use – talking about a relationship and ‘boyfriend’ there is the clue that we’re talking about, a romantic relationship.

  • Are you with Sammy? I’m trying to find her.

Now here, this probably isn’t talking about a romantic relationship because we’re looking for Sammy, we want to know where she is, where she physically is right now. We’re asking is she with you? Okay? It’s not the romantic meaning.

‘With’ can also mean having something. So you can use ‘with’ to show that something or someone has something else. So a person with tattoos is someone who has tattoos. A dog with a red collar is a dog who has a red collar.

  • I’ve never met someone with purple hair before!
  • I’m looking for a new house with a pool.
  • He quits because he needs a job with a better salary.

Okay so ‘with’ can also mean to use something, to make or to do something else. So think about a time when you were doing an action or you were making something with the help of a tool or an object or an ingredient. It sounds a little confusing. But let me think of a couple of examples just to make it a bit easier to understand.

  • She decorated the table with the candles that he gave her.

So she used the candles to make the table look nice. Okay? She’s using them as a tool or as a material.

  • He always does his homework with a pencil so he can erase his mistakes.

So he uses a pencil while he’s doing his homework.

So these three meanings that we’ve just been through, they’re all quite similar but small details in a sentence can help you figure out the meaning of ‘with’ in that sentence. So I want to give you a few examples to help you compare these three different uses of ‘with’, okay?

  • I made a pasta sauce with the basil that I grew in my garden.

So here I’m talking about using basil to cook. It’s an important ingredient or tool, I guess, that I use to make this specific recipe. But I could also say in general that I like pasta sauce with basil. Okay? So I’m not making the pasta sauce here, I’m not using basil. I’m just speaking about how I like pasta or pasta sauce that has basil in it, that contains basil.

But if I went to a restaurant, the waitress might ask:

  • Would you like the pasta with the basil sauce?

So she’s asking if I want the pasta and the basil sauce together. So if I say yes, I’m going to get both of those things together on my plate, right? Does that make sense?

Okay so there are two more ways that you can use the preposition ‘with’ though these ones are a little less common than the last three. But you can use ‘with’ to show the feeling behind an action. So to say that you’re doing an action with a certain feeling.

  • “I’m writing this message to you with great sadness…”

So the person who’s writing that message they want to show or explain that they’re feeling sad as they are doing the action of writing the message.

  • She sang with such emotion that I started to cry.
  • He opened the door with fear.

Okay? So we can use ‘with’ to explain how an action – the emotion behind an action.

Now lastly, if someone is with you, they agree with you, they’re on your side. So imagine that everyone at work is in the middle of a big discussion. Everyone has different opinions, right? But you agree with Matt, so you can say:

  • I’m with Matt.

When you say that you are letting everyone know that you agree with Matt. You have the same opinions as Matt, right?

Now we also talked about this same use in this video. This is the video about the prepositions, ‘for’ and ‘by’. So you can use ‘for’ to express a similar idea, to agree or support someone. But ‘with’ is usually used to say that you support a person and their opinion. And ‘for’ is usually used to say that you support an idea.

So I would say:

  • I’m with Matt. 

We both agree in free healthcare for everyone.

Now compare that to:

  • I’m for free healthcare. 

Okay? There’s a difference.

Now interestingly, this expression ‘to stand by someone’ has a very similar meaning, it’s a similar idea. It’s really nice when someone stands by you, right? But this is an important expression to keep in mind because the meaning is very similar to what we’ve just been talking about but the preposition is different. Right? So you just need to take a note of it.

Right, so we’ve been over all of the uses of ‘with’ as a preposition. But before we move on, I want you to pause for a moment and write a few sentences in the comments below to practise using what you’ve learned just now, okay? And I’ll try and check them and make sure I give you some feedback, make sure that you’re using them correctly. Down there!


All right, let’s check out the preposition ‘by’ now. Now it can be used to talk about general proximity. So to show that someone is near or close to something else. And it usually means that that thing is right beside it or to the side of something else.

Where did you park the car?

  • I parked by the supermarket.

Okay? So that means I parked near the supermarket. My car is really close to the supermarket. It’s probably right next to it.

  • Shannon has an alarm clock by her bed to help her wake up in time.
  • I want to live by the beach one day!

So this is easy enough, right? Now there’s a teeny weeny thing that you need to remember here. When ‘by’ is used with a verb that shows movement, it describes the movement past a person or a place or a thing. So ‘by’ with a movement verb shows us that something is moving past another thing.

  • I walked by your office this afternoon, but I couldn’t see you.

So here, ‘walk’ is a verb that shows movement, right? So I walked past your office, I walked by your office.

Now we also use ‘by’ to set a time limit. So when ‘by’ is used with time, it means not later than a certain time.

  • I have to leave for work by 7.30am.

I can leave before seven thirty, or exactly at seven thirty but I can’t leave later than seven thirty. If I leave later, well, I’ll be late for work.

  • Make sure you’re home by midnight!

Have your parents ever said that to you? So in this lesson here, I actually go into more detail about how we use ‘by’ to talk about time. So if you want to go a little more deeper on that, click this link here.

We can also use ‘by’ to show who or what is doing something when we’re using the passive voice.

  • I’d like my hair to be cut by Maria, please. 

So this is the passive voice. In English, we use the passive voice or the active voice for different reasons. Actually I made a lesson on it a few months ago so it’s right here if you are curious about the passive voice. So this is the passive voice.

The active voice is:

  • I would like Maria to cut my hair.

So in the first example I’m using the passive voice to show that the emphasis is on the action, not the person. The action is the most important thing in the sentence. And we use ‘by’ to know who or what is doing the action, if it’s important. Now when you want to explain how an action will be done, you can also use ‘by’. So you’re saying what is your method for arriving somewhere. Or getting something done or doing something. What is the way that you’re going to do it?

In all of those different situations, you can use ‘by’ to explain how.

  • The traffic was so bad I had to go to work by bike. 

Okay? So bike was the method that I used to get to work. Another one.

  • I’m losing weight by eating less and exercising more.
  • Improve your strength and balance by practising yoga. 

Okay these are the methods to achieve the outcome. All right, last one and then we’ll practise together, I promise. We can use ‘by’ with a reflexive pronoun to say that you’ll do something alone. Okay or a person is doing something alone. Now all personal pronouns have a reflexive form in English, right? So we have:

I = myself
one = oneself

our = ourselves
him = himself
you = yourself
them = themselves

Right? There’s quite a few of them. But you can use ‘by’ with a reflexive pronoun to talk about doing something alone or without any help from anyone else. So you would say ‘by myself’, ‘by yourself’, ‘by itself’. That kind of thing.

  • You can go home, I’m happy to clean up by myself. 

So that just means that I don’t need you, I can clean up on my own.

  • My nephew was ecstatic when he learned that he could ride his bike by himself.

Speaking of reflexive pronouns, let’s go back to the preposition ‘with’ for a moment because ‘with’ can also be used with a reflexive pronoun. So remember that ‘with’ and a person means together, right? So ‘with’ and a reflexive pronoun, it’s kind of like saying together with oneself, right?

  • He had a conversation with himself to work up his confidence before the speech. 

So he was talking to himself, probably just inside his head, right? You don’t have to speak out loud to have a conversation with yourself, right?

Cool, so let’s look at a few situations where both ‘with’ and ‘by’ can be used correctly but of course, it means the meaning changes and this is where it can get a little confusing, all right? I want you to take your time here.

  • The movie was filmed by Jerry.
  • The movie was filmed with an underwater camera. 

So I want you to think about what’s the difference in the meaning here. Why have we used each of these prepositions and what do they mean in each of these sentences? I want you to pause the video for a moment and write your answer in the comments. Okay so the first sentence. It uses ‘by’ to show who was doing the action, who filmed the movie. It was Jerry.

But in the second sentence, ‘with’ tells us what was used to do the filming so what kind of equipment was used. Well it was an underwater camera, right? Let’s try another one.

  • I saw the lady with a dog.
  • I saw the lady by the dog.

So pause the video, think about the difference. Try and explain it in the answers. And I’ll be down there to check soon. So I hope that you paused and you wrote your answer because I’m about to tell you it anyway.

So in the first sentence, ‘with’ shows togetherness. The lady and the dog are together, it’s probably her dog. But in the second sentence, ‘by’ tells us the location of the lady. She’s near the dog. It could be her dog but maybe not, we don’t really know.

Now that you know the rules about these prepositions, you’ll be able to read through a few pages of your favourite English book and start to recognise these different uses. Actually, that’s a really great way to help you remember what you learned in this lesson, to actually start practising, looking for these prepositions and trying to understand them.

Now before you go, I’ve got a few last sentences to practise with you, okay? I’m going to give you some sentences and see if you can choose the correct preposition to go in the blank space, right? So I want you to write your answers in the comments below. I’m going to be down there checking them straight away after this lesson’s live. And I don’t want you to write just the answer, I want you to tell me why you’ve chosen that preposition. What’s the meaning behind it, right? Here we go!

  • I don’t need your help. I can do it ____ myself!

Is it ‘by’ or ‘with’? It’s ‘by’ right? Because we’ve got a reflexive pronoun here to talk about doing something alone. Right? Okay now it’s your turn.

  • Did you know that you can lighten your hair ____ lemons?

What’s the preposition? with lemons. Right?

Here’s another one.

  • Would you like to order any fries ____ your burger?

with your burger. So that’s together, right? Fries and your burger together.

Now it is possible to say ‘Would you like to order any fries by your burger?’ Sounds a bit weird though. That just means on the plate, so next to the burger on your plate. So it’s a way less common way of saying that. It’s not completely incorrect but it certainly doesn’t sound right. So ‘with’ is the correct option there.

  • Improve your vocabulary ____ reading the news in English!

How about this one?  breading the news, right? So here, ‘by’ is telling us that it’s the method that something is done, right?

  • The other day I met a mother ____ 13 children!

This one? with thirteen children!

We’re using ‘with’ here to say that she has something. Can you imagine that? It would be chaos! Absolute chaos!

  • The children live _____ their parents ____ by the river.

Okay, how about this one? We’ve got two. Is it ‘with’ or ‘by’? Where does it go?

with their parents. Correct. Together with their parents.

And by the river. So next to the river.

Last one.

  • I usually walk to work ____ my husband but today we went ____ bus.

So it’s with my husband, so we’re together and so that’s the method of getting to work.

So how did you go? I hope that you enjoyed that lesson especially the practice section at the end because you need to make sure that you’re using the lessons that you learn here at mmmEnglish. Like I said, practise while you read, just grab your favourite book, English book, or find an article online even, but then underline every ‘with’ and ‘by’ on the page. These words are so common, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of them.

But what I want you to do is to then be curious and try to understand or try to work out why these different prepositions were used. It will really help your brain to remember this lesson. Now I would love to keep teaching you more about prepositions right here. Or we can switch things up a little bit and maybe try this lesson instead.

But don’t forget to subscribe and show your support for the mmmEnglish channel and I will see you in one of these lessons. See you there!

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