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What's the difference between of, from and by?

The prepositions of, from and by can be easily confused in English.

Learn the difference between these three prepositions with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercise.


The most valuable painting in the world is the Mona Lisa.

It’s a portrait of an Italian woman.

It was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s from the 1500s, so it’s over 500 years old.

When to use from

From has various uses. Its main functions are:

  • to indicate a starting point (time, range, journey etc.)
    I work from eight o’clock every day.
    Prices start from £9.99.
    The students range in age from 20 to 70.
    The train departs from the main station at seven o’clock.
  • to show distance
    Our house is two kilometres from the bus stop.
  • to express origin
    The painting is from the 1500s.
    I got my sofa from Ikea.
  • to talk about a change of state
    They moved from Melbourne to Sydney.
  • to talk about how something is manufactured
    Unfortunately, the chocolate spread is made from palm oil.

When to use of

We use of in the following cases:

  • to indicate possession when we talk about two inanimate objects
Berlin is the capital of Germany.
The decision of the court is final.
I dreamt of you last night.
Donald is afraid of the dark.
  • after quantifiers like most, many, some and any (quantifier + of + noun)
Most of the children take the bus to school.
  • to talk about the raw materials of a product
All our furniture is made of oak.
  • to show position or location
We lived in the north of the island.
  • to explain what is shown on a photo or painting
It’s a portrait of an Italian woman.
It’s a photograph of me and my grandad.

When to use by

We use by in the following contexts:

  • to express the manner in which something is done
All the pastries are made by hand.
Learning by doing is best.
  • to introduce the subject (agent) of something, often in a passive sentence
It was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
We were helped by a friendly stranger.
  • to express proximity (near to)
I lived by the sea.
  • to talk about a deadline (no later than)
The students have to finish their coursework by Monday.

To read more about the preposition by, see our page on by vs. until.

made from or made of?

Deciding when to use made from and when to use made of can be tricky. The difference depends on whether we are talking about an object that has been changed a lot during manufacturing, or an object that is still in its original form.

Typically, made from refers to a product that has been altered in a significant way:

The shoes are made from recycled bottles.
Glass is made from sand.
In these examples the end product (shoes, glass) is drastically different to the original materials (bottles, sand)

On the other hand, made of usually refers to a product that retains its basic or original raw materials:

My ring is made of titanium, so it doesn’t damage easily.
The table is made of pine.
In these examples the products (ring, table) have not been changed too much during the manufacturing process

We use made by to talk about who created the object:

The biscuits on sale were made by local school children.