I recently saw an invitation to enter a competition until 15 July. This reminded me of an error that many German speakers make when they speak English. They often use use until when they mean by.
German speakers make this error because German has one single preposition bis covering 2 different meanings that English expresses with 2 different prepositions:
- English uses until when someone keeps on doing throughout a period but stops doing it at the end of that period.
‘The play is running until 15 July’.
- English uses by when someone can do something at some time during a period but can no longer do that thing after that period. A phrase synonymous with by in this second sense is ‘no later than‘.
‘To enter the race, please submit the entry form by 15 July.’
The invitation should have asked me to enter the competition by 15 July.