Until & By

Two words that I hear many English learners make mistakes with, even very advanced learners, are ‘until’ and ‘by’ when talking about deadlines.
“Please give me your homework until tomorrow” is a variation on the common mistake I hear.

“Please give me your homework by tomorrow” is correct.
“Please work on your homework until tomorrow” is also fine.

 

So what’s the difference?
“By” is used for actions that must happen once before the deadline.

“Do your homework by tomorrow, renew your driver’s license by Wednesday, pay your rent by the end of the month”.

These actions need to be completed once.
“Until” is used for actions that continue for a period of time.

“I have to work until 9pm tonight, I will keep practicing until I succeed, I didn’t eat until 4pm today”.

These are all actions that continued until the deadline then stopped.
“I worked on my homework until 11:59pm, luckily I finished it by the deadline at midnight.” is an example of how one action continues (working) but one action happens just once (finishing).

 

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