When you are learning a language, it can be difficult when words don’t seem to line up with their meaning. That is the case with “by the way,” so is it correct to say “by the way”?
The phrase “by the way” is correct as an idiom we use to transition to something not directly related to your main topic. It lets your audience know you are going offtopic or tells your reader or listener you are adding new information to a given topic.
If you want to learn how to correctly use the phrase “by the way,” keep reading!
Using “By the Way”
You can use “by the way” to introduce a new topic that does not immediately relate to your main subject. In other words, you can use this phrase to tell your listener or reader that you are going on a slight detour (source).
For example, if you were talking about mowing the lawn, and then you remembered that you heard there would be rain later, you might say:
- I really need to mow the lawn this morning. By the way, I think it’s supposed to rain later.
Rain is tangentially related to mowing the lawn, but it is still a slight change in subject.
Here is another example:
- Susan invited me to go to the movies with her. By the way, I need to borrow the car.
In the above example, the second sentence about borrowing the car is related to the first sentence. However, the speaker has moved from stating a fact (“Susan has invited me . . .”) to making a request.
As you can see, the phrase “by the way” introduces a new, though often related, subject. It is a way of letting your audience know that you are deviating to a new subject matter.
Using “By the Way” in a Full Sentence
You should use “by the way” when transitioning from one subject to the next. This phrase works best when the two topics are loosely related.
- I have this Friday off, so we should go do something. By the way, that new burger place is now open.
In the above example, we see two pieces of information. The first is that the speaker has a day off, so they want to do something. The second subject is a new burger restaurant. These two ideas are linked implicitly because the speaker would like to go to the burger place on their day off.
You can also use “by the way” to introduce new information about something you just mentioned. For example, if you thanked your friend for letting you borrow their car by putting gas in it, you might say:
- I put gas in the car, by the way.
Notice that the phrase “by the way” comes at the end of the sentence above. Instead of signaling a change, the phrase here acknowledges that you have changed the subject slightly while linking the new topic back to the old one.
What Does “By the Way” Mean?
The “way” in the saying refers to a road or path, so the phrase is a sort of metaphor. If you imagine your train of thought as going in a certain direction, when you say that something is “by the way,” you mean that it is off the path (source).
The phrase “by the way” is very old, and many famous authors have used it. For example, Shakespeare uses it in The Merry Wives of Windsor (source):
In truth, sir, and she is pretty and honest, and gentle; and one that is your friend, I can tell you that by the way; I praise heaven for it.Act 1, Scene 4
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “By the Way”?
It is grammatically correct to say “by the way.” “By the way” is a prepositional phrase. The preposition “by” can function a few different ways, but in this instance, it means “near or at the side of” (source).
“By the way” acts as a transition, allowing you to move from one subject to another related issue or to give more information.
How Do You Use “By the Way”?
You’ll use the phrase “by the way” to shift from one subject to the next. The idiom tells your listener you have deviated for the moment to a different but similar matter or that you want to provide additional information.
You can use it at the beginning of the new subject to signal the change.
- By the way, I like the way you set up your new office.
You can also place the phrase at the end of the statement or in the middle as a parenthetical. A parenthetical statement within a sentence adds information but isn’t necessary for understanding the sentence’s point.
- I hope, by the way, that you have a folder for those documents.
Both of the above examples are valid ways to use the phrase “by the way.”
In What Context Can You Use “By the Way”?
You can use “by the way” when you want your audience to know that you are changing the subject to something not directly related to what you said previously.
You might say:
- By the way, I wanted to say I’d wait for Dani.
This phrase lets your audience know that you have moved to a new topic. It helps the transition to the new subject to be less jarring. Compare to this:
- I went to the store today. I saw Alex.
One could take these two sentences as random and unrelated. But if you were to say:
- I went to the store today. By the way, I saw Alex.
The addition of the phrase “by the way” not only smooths the transition but also makes the connection between the two sentences more explicit. This phrasing implies that you saw Alex at the store.
When Can You Use “By the Way”?
The phrase “by the way” acts as a transition, so you use it when going from one topic to the next. It is best to use when the two ideas relate to one another somehow.
Take a look at these two sentences:
- I didn’t get to read the news this morning. By the way, the neighbor has a new dog.
The use of “by the way” here is odd because there is not a clear link between not reading the paper and the neighbor having a new dog. The phrase “by the way” works best when the new subject is related, but tangential, to the original subject.
- I didn’t get to read the newspaper this morning. By the way, I was almost late for work.
In the above sentences, we have two different issues — not reading the newspaper and being late for work. They relate in that the speaker did not have time to read the paper since they were running late.
Which Is Correct: “By the By” or “By the Way”?
Both “by the by” and “by the way” are correct, but “by the way” is more common and recognized.
“By the way” is like the phrase “by the by” or “by the bye.” Like “way,” a “by” can mean a side road. Therefore, the metaphor is the same: you are going off the path to a new topic.
You can use “by the by” the same way as “by the way” (source):
- By the by, we’ll need to replace that lightbulb.
It is good to know both expressions, but “by the way” is the more common of the two.
What Can You Use Instead of “By the Way”?
There are a few other transitions you can use instead of “by the way.” You would use the phrase “by the way” a lot like how you might use the adverb “incidentally.”
For example, you might use the following sentence:
- Incidentally, I didn’t see Tom’s car when I went by the office.
You might very easily substitute the phrase “by the way” for “incidentally” here:
- By the way, I didn’t see Tom’s car when I went by the office.
There are other similar words and phrases. For example, you might use the similar phrase “by the bye,” which we already mentioned. There are other, shorter phrases you might consider as well.
First, you could use “in passing.” The concept is very similar to “by the way” — you are passing by the subject and commenting on it before moving on. For example:
- We should note, in passing, that none of the forks are clean.
You might also use “as an aside.” This phrase announces that what comes next is an aside or a tangent.
Using “BTW” for “By the Way”
If you have used a lot of instant messaging or social media, you probably have seen the initialism “BTW.” This is an abbreviation for the phrase “by the way.”
While not appropriate for formal writing, this initialism can come in handy when using many forms of electronic communication. This is particularly true for social media platforms such as Twitter, which limits your character usage.
This initialism can replace the phrase “by the way” in the sentence, and your reader will understand its meaning. So, for example:
- By the way, here’s a picture of us at the show.
Can shorten to:
- BTW here’s a picture of us at the show.
Any time you see “BTW” in electronic messaging, you can understand it to mean the same as “by the way.”
When Not to Use “By the Way”
You should not use “by the way” when you mean the similar-sounding phrase “by way of.” Unlike “by the way,” which uses the idea of a “way” or “road” metaphorically, “by way of” means it literally.
The phrase “by way of” tells your reader or listener how you have traveled (source).
For instance, if you wanted to tell someone the road you used to travel to Atlanta, you might say:
- We came to Atlanta by way of I-85 South.
The phrase “by way of” does not have to refer to a road. It can also refer to a means of arriving at a state of being or a conclusion. For example:
- He apologized by way of flowers.
In the above sentence, the flowers provide the means by which the subject apologized. The preposition “of” lets your audience know that what comes next is the way, road, or manner that someone achieved or arrived at a place or state of being (source).
Phrases and Idioms
The phrase “by the way” is an example of an idiom. Idioms are phrases that mean something different than the individual words (source).
To learn more about idioms, check out our article “Idiom vs. Metaphor: How Are They Different?”
Idioms tend to function as a unit. That is because the meaning is associated with the phrase and not the individual words; idioms always appear in a particular way. For example, take the following idiom:
- They sold like hotcakes! (meaning “they sold quickly”)
The phrase “sold like hotcakes” always appears in this phrasing. You would not say, “they sold like pancakes,” even though a pancake is the same thing as a hotcake. To do so would be to get the idiom wrong.
Here are other examples of idioms:
- Up in arms (to get angry)
- Beat around the bush (to not speak directly)
- Under the weather (to be sick)
You should not understand any of the above idioms literally. For example, to be “under the weather” does not mean to be beneath the weather. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
You also need to reproduce the idiom exactly. “Beneath the weather” does not mean the same thing as “under the weather,” even though the prepositions “beneath” and “under” mean roughly the same thing.
As with all idioms, the phrase “by the way” can be confusing since its meaning comes from the entire phrase instead of from the individual words. You might be tempted to understand it literally or get the wording wrong when you try to use it yourself.
Even though it might be tricky, learning how to use phrases like “by the way” can be helpful. Using idioms correctly is an important aspect of learning a language. If you follow the advice in this article, you can correctly use “by the way.”