by the time/before the time

jakartaman

Senior Member
Korean
Let's say my boss told me to make 100 copies of a book by 3 p.m.
And I had to do it or else I would get fired. So I did.
After work, I met up with a friend of mine for a drink.

I was talking to him about what I did today under time pressure.

In such a situation, can I say to my friend...

I had to finish the work by the time he told to finish it (otherwise he would fire me)?

Or shoud I say
I had to finish the work before the time he told me to finish it (otherwise he would fire me)?

Or if both sound unnatural, what would you say?
 
  • BoxedIn

    New Member
    English - Canada
    Hi jakartaman,

    Both are correct and either could be used. But the two have slightly different meanings. It depends on what you want to tell your friend.

    1) I had to finish the work by the deadline, otherwise my boss would fire me. (You had to finish the work no later than 3 PM)

    2) I had to finish the work before the deadline, otherwise my boss would fire me. (You have to explicitly finish the work at 2:59 PM or earlier)

    Cheers,
    BoxedIn
     
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    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    Yes, "by" means "no later than"; the time mentioned is the absolute latest deadline, but is included in the time allotted you. Another example: "I have to finish it by Friday" = Friday is the last day I can finish it. "I have to finish it before Friday" = Thursday is the last day I can finish it, Friday would be too late."
     
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