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By the summer of 1898, he had 10,000 dollars.

In this sentence, does "by" mean "at"? So it means that at the summer of 1989, the person had 10,000 dollars?

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"at the summer" is not idiomatic; we would instead say it another way, such as "in the summer". The difference between "at/in" and "by" is that the former refers to one point in time, whereas the latter suggests a process or progression leading up to a point in time. Thus, in your example, "by" suggests that his wealth increased over the preceding months/years, so as to reach the amount of $10,000.

Comments  
Julian Ng-Thow-HingIn this sentence, does "by" mean "at"? So it means that at the summer of 1989, the person had 10,000 dollars?

"So it means that in the summer of 1989, the person had 10,000 dollars?"

Well, yes, but it means more than that. It means that he accumulated the money over time until he had that much when that summer rolled around.

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 GPY's reply was promoted to an answer.

Do we have a specific time in the summer of when the person reached 10,000? Was it the beginning, end, middle, etc..? Despite "at/in" referring to one point in time, can't one still use common sense that they didn't just get it all at once, making them able to be used?

Julian Ng-Thow-HingDo we have a specific time in the summer of when the person reached 10,000? Was it the beginning, end, middle, etc..?

It probably implies early or mid summer rather than late summer, but the exact time is not indicated.

Julian Ng-Thow-HingDespite "at" not being idiomatic, can't you still use it?

No, not in this sentence, not in the way you suggested using it.

There are of course cases where the words "at the summer" can happen to occur together; e.g. "we look back at the summer of 1999", where "at" is part of the pattern "look back at ~".

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No, not in this sentence, not in the way you suggested using it.

There are of course cases where the words "at the summer" can happen to occur together; e.g. "we look back at the summer of 1999", where "at" is part of the pattern "look back at ~".

So I was looking at many other examples with "at" and "by" using dates, and I found that "by" is only used, and "at" is used for exact dates. However, in this scenario, "at" and "by" seem to be interchangable. Is it just because "at" isn't idomatic, the reason why it can't be subsituted? This is because: "My parents said I need to make $5000 by 1988" "My parents said In need to make $5000 at 1988" These two have a large difference. "He had 10,000 by 1988."
"He had 10,000 at 1988." These seem the same in terms of meaning, but "at" just doesn't seem right. EDIT: I may have found the reason why. "At" does not imply anything on how they achieved their money (could've gotten it all at once on the date or could've gotten it over time), however "by" implies that they got it over time, which makes "by" much more descriptive, and a better word with no ambiguity.
Julian Ng-Thow-Hing I may have found the reason why. "At" does not imply anything on how they achieved their money (could've gotten it all at once on the date or could've gotten it over time), however "by" implies that they got it over time, which makes "by" much more descriptive, and a better word with no ambiguity.

This is not really the fundamental point. Even if we want the meaning that "at" might seem to have, we do not say "at the summer" or "at 1988". This may be somewhat influenced by the fact that "summer" and "1988" are relatively longer periods of time, but yet we do not say e.g. "at Monday" either, even though Monday is just one day. As is often the case with prepositions, it is all largely idiomatic. You often just have to learn the combinations that native speakers naturally say.