by the time

Discussion in 'English Only' started by tsiyaku, Jun 21, 2013.

  1. tsiyaku Senior Member

    Hello everyone,

    "His math may have improved by the time the exam comes around."
    I read this random sentence the other day and I could't exactly understand it.
    I studied almost all "by the time" usages but never saw one like this .Is it grammatically acceptable? If so, what time exactly does it mean?

    Thank you in advance.
  2. boozer Senior Member

    It is perfectly acceptable for me. It expresses a possible finished action in the future, by the time another future condition is fulfilled.
  3. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Yes, it's acceptable. I'd even say it's correct.

    It means that his math is poor now, but it may improve between now and the time of the exam.
  4. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English

    We expect you to tell us where you have found a sentence if it is not one you have written yourself (Rule 4).

    That looks to be a standard use of by the time. If you put by the time in the search box and then choose the "in context" link you will find many similar examples.

    The structure is something will have happened by the time something else happens.
    Which means
    something will have happened before something else happens.
    You may be familiar with "By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising"*, which is the same structure but with the clauses in a different order. It's the same as "she'll be rising by the time I get to Phoenix"

    * Source - song written by Jimmy Webb
  5. tsiyaku Senior Member

    Hello again thanks for all the replies. I looked this sentence up in the internet but couldn't find the source.What I have difficulty understanding is normally when we say "may/might have done" we mean perhaps we he has done it(in the past) but we're not sure.But in this sentence it uses "may have improved" and refers to the current time and not past. I hope I managed to explain my question.
  6. nld Senior Member

    I think "he may have improved" has a future meaning here, and is more or less equivalent to "maybe he will have improved"
  7. tsiyaku Senior Member

    Thanks nld. But what if he said "His math might have improved by the time the exam comes around". Would that still count as grammatically correct?
  8. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    I think you would have to say "his exam might have improved by the time the exam came around" to mean that the exam has already occurred and that it is possible that his math got better before he took the exam. Other than that, for me the two sentences: "His math may have improved by the time the exam comes around" or "His math may improve by the time the exam comes around" are equivalent in meaning and both are okay. Both mean that the exam is in the future and his math may be better by the time of the exam than it is now.
  9. tsiyaku Senior Member

    Last edited: Jul 13, 2013
  10. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    The time is "when you get back" which is in the future. The sentence means that it is possible that the speaker might leave before the other person returns.

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