"By" in sign language

Like most prepositions, ASL has its own grammar that it's not possible to translate word-to-word from an English preposition into ASL.

The tiny English preposition "by" means near, beside, past, or aside. Let's see some examples of sentences what ASL glosses are used in.

By as in past

When your friend rides by on her bike, she passes close to you. Use a classifier phrase. :o

This is an example of a classifier phrase. Note that it would be grammatically inflected, depending on the subjects/objects.

By as in near

Use "NEAR" for some cases or use classifiers in other many cases.

By as in 'not later than' or 'at or before'

"She had promised to be back by five o'clock." Use BEFORE.

By as in during

"We studied by night and rested by day." Use DURING.

By as in beside or aside

A more old-fashioned way to use the word is to mean "aside" or "in reserve," as when your aunt puts some homemade pickles by so she can eat them all winter.

In conformity with

"I refuse to live by their rules." Use "FOLLOW".

By used to show how something is done

"We entered by the front door." Use THROUGH.

"He learned English by listening to the radio." Use "conjunction-HOW" with the raised eyebrows. ASL translation glossed as "IX1 LEARN+ ENGLISH /\HOW/\ HEAR++ fs-RADIO."


"We're reading some books (written) by Paddy Ladd." ASL translation glossed as "NOW WE READ++ BOOK /\THAT/\ IX-book fs-Paddy fs-Ladd WROTE."

"The book was translated by Ms. Dolby." ASL: "/\BOOK/\ IX-book IX1 [name sign or fs-Dolby] TRANSLATE++." Or, use a rhetorical question as follows: "/\BOOK/\ IX-book /\rq-WHO TRANSLATE++/\ fs-Dolby."

"The English were conquered by the Normans in 1066." Another example, "The temperature is controlled by a thermostat." These English sentences use passive verb forms. In ASL translation, use active voice.

Phrase: by the time

Used for saying what has already happened at the time that something else happens.

Example: "By the time we arrived, the seats were already full." Use "THAT TIME" in ASL sentence glossed as "/\THAT TIME WE ARRIVE/\, SEAT++ ALREADY FULL."

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