The phrase ‘by the time‘ is used with clauses to say that something has already happened at the time that something else happens.
Let’s look at simpler examples of the same meaning with a noun phrase:
By my 18th Birthday, I will know.
With a clause:
By the time I am 18, I will know.
It basically means I will know before the time of my birthday.
*Note that the tense may seem unusual because the present form ‘I am‘ is used even though the birthday is in the future. Similarly, here is an example using by the time + present simple tense + future clause:
There is no other EGP tense that is related to this particular complex time conjunction or an English Vocabulary Profile entry. The question is what CEFR level is the use of other tenses and structures? The closest meaning in the EVP is:
A2 not later than; at/on or before
She had promised to be back by five o’clock.
The application must be in by August 31st.
but the example above is a simple preposition…
So at C1, the present simple can be used for a future meaning, at A2 a very basic version of the meaning can be used, but there is no listing for the ‘by the time’ in the EVP. The Oxford Phrase List does mention ‘by the time (that) …‘ at B1.
For this reason, we will say that using ‘by the time‘ as a complex time conjunction with clauses is at least B2.
Here are past simple examples that we consider to be at least B2 complexity:
Looking through the PELIC corpus the majority of the uses of the structure contain errors. This means this is highly unlikely to be producible at lower levels. Here is a correct use of tenses which we have corrected a few other minor errors in from the PELIC corpus:
Japanese Female level 4 grammar class
A search in iWeb for by the time grammar:
by the time * *
1 BY THE TIME I GOT 6184
2 BY THE TIME OF THE 5617 (no following clause)
For the next 20 results, we let AI complete the sentences:
- By the time I was 18, I had already traveled to 10 countries.
- By the time you get home, I will have cooked dinner for you.
- By the time he was 30, he had become a millionaire.
- By the time we got to the airport, the flight had already left.
- By the time I get back, you should have finished your homework.
- By the time they are 65, they will have retired from their jobs.
- By the time you’re done with this course, you will have learned a lot of new skills.
- By the time she was 12, she had written her first novel.
- By the time you read this letter, I will be gone.
- By the time it was midnight, everyone had fallen asleep.
- By the time you are 21, you will be able to drink legally in this country.
- By the time we get there, the concert will have started.
- By the time they reach the summit, they will have climbed over 8000 meters.
- By the time you reach the end of this book, you will have solved the mystery.
- By the time I had finished my coffee, he had already left.
- By the time you have your baby, I will be an aunt.
- By the time they were 40, they had traveled around the world.
- By the time they get here, we will have eaten all the pizza.
- By the time of his death, he had written over 50 books.
- By the time you’ve read this sentence, three seconds will have passed.
- By the time you finish this quiz, you will have answered 23 questions.
24 BY THE TIME WE WERE 1201
25 BY THE TIME I’M 1124
26 BY THE TIME HE GOT 1034
27 BY THE TIME THEY GOT 943
28 BY THE TIME THEY’RE 938
29 BY THE TIME IT IS 931
30 BY THE TIME IT ‘S 904
31 BY THE TIME I REACHED 886
the bottom of Bartlett Hill Road,
32 BY THE TIME I LEFT 861
33 BY THE TIME IT GETS 857
34 BY THE TIME IT REACHES 821
35 BY THE TIME I FINISHED 819
36 BY THE TIME WE REACHED 793
37 BY THE TIME THE FIRST 781
38 BY THE TIME THEY REACHED 687
39 BY THE TIME HE REACHED 639
40 BY THE TIME WE ARRIVED 627
41 BY THE TIME WE HAD 616
42 BY THE TIME HE LEFT 589
43 BY THE TIME WE REACH 582
44 BY THE TIME HE HAD 571
45 BY THE TIME WE LEFT 563
46 BY THE TIME THAT THE 556
47 BY THE TIME I ARRIVED 545
48 BY THE TIME THEY GRADUATE 545
49 BY THE TIME THE NEXT 535
50 BY THE TIME I AM 529
51 BY THE TIME I WENT 522
52 BY THE TIME YOU GRADUATE 514
53 BY THE TIME I’D 513
54 BY THE TIME WE ARE 490
55 BY THE TIME HE IS 486
56 BY THE TIME I CAME 484
57 BY THE TIME WE ‘RE 480
58 BY THE TIME THEY ARRIVED 474
59 BY THE TIME THEY HAVE 472
60 BY THE TIME YOU HIT 462
61 BY THE TIME HE GETS 460
62 BY THE TIME YOU LEAVE 458
63 BY THE TIME I HAVE 456
64 BY THE TIME HE ARRIVED 435
65 BY THE TIME I STARTED 434
66 BY THE TIME HE’S 431
67 BY THE TIME I FINISH 423
68 BY THE TIME SHE GOT 408
69 BY THE TIME HE DIED 391
70 BY THE TIME THE LAST 385
71 BY THE TIME WE FINISHED 379
72 BY THE TIME THE GAME 378
73 BY THE TIME YOURE DONE 376
74 BY THE TIME THEY LEAVE 367
75 BY THE TIME YOU ADD 366
76 BY THE TIME I HIT 363
77 BY THE TIME I’VE 361
78 BY THE TIME I GRADUATED 357
79 BY THE TIME I REALIZED 352
80 BY THE TIME IT GOT 345
81 BY THE TIME YOU SEE 340
82 BY THE TIME I MADE 339
83 BY THE TIME HE RETURNED 338
84 BY THE TIME THEY HAD 336
85 BY THE TIME THE SECOND 322
86 BY THE TIME THE SUN 322
87 BY THE TIME IT CAME 319
88 BY THE TIME THEY HIT 318
89 BY THE TIME HE CAME 316
90 BY THE TIME OF THIS 316
91 BY THE TIME YOU START 314
92 BY THE TIME THE NEW 307
93 BY THE TIME YOU CAN 306
94 BY THE TIME A CHILD 297
95 BY THE TIME YOU COME 295
96 BY THE TIME YOU ARRIVE 293
97 BY THE TIME OF HER 291
98 BY THE TIME I FOUND 288
99 BY THE TIME THE SEASON 288
100 BY THE TIME SHE IS 287
B1 vocabulary: reached, realized, season
We have already covered by the time grammar on another page.