How Do You Use the Verb “Stand By”?

There are a couple of different ways to use the phrasal verb to stand by, and it can get very confusing.

Here’s a quick guide to this common English verb.

One meaning of stand by is “wait.” For example, if a television channel (station) has problems with its equipment, you might see a sign on the screen that says “Please Stand By.” This means “Please wait until we fix this!”

To stand by a person means to support that person even when he or she is having difficulties. There was a famous song (and later movie) called “Stand By Me,” which means “Help me even if I am in trouble or have done something wrong.”

Another example: In the song, “Stand By Your Man,” a husband cheats on his wife (sleeps with another woman), but the wife decides to “stand by” her “man” (husband), even though he has hurt her by his actions. She continues to support him and be with him.

Finally, to stand by can mean to actually walk over to a certain place and, well, stand there! In this case, it means to stand next to something (“by” often means “near” or “next to”).

Just to make things more difficult for you, there’s also a noun “standby” that is related to the first verb meaning I discussed, “to wait.”

To fly standby means that you are waiting for a seat on an airplane. Usually this happens when you change your plans so as to take a different flight (airline trip), and the airline has to find you a seat. (And sometimes they don’t find you a seat and you have to wait for another flight!)

How do you know which meaning is being used? As with most things in language, the context (the other words in the sentence) will usually help you.

Here are some more examples, with the meaning in parentheses:

  • “Stand by, everyone! The president is about to make an important announcement.” (wait)
  • “Parents usually stand by their children even when they make a mistake.” (support)
  • “Go stand by the door – I’ll be there in a few minutes.” (be next to)
  • “I had to fly standby because my first flight got canceled.” (wait for a seat on an airplane)


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