English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
  1. "The variable len indicates the buffer length in bytes."

  2. "The variable len indicates the buffer length by the byte."

I'm a computer programmer, so I know 1 is far more common than 2.

However, please consider the following two sentences:

  1. "He is paid by the hour"

  2. "He is paid in hours"

I also know 3 is far more common than 4.

Which of these phrases should be used in what scenarios?

share|improve this question
paid in hours means you get paid with monetary unit of hours, which is probably not what you want to say. i would definitely like to be paid in dollars instead of hours :p in the same sense, bytes is the measurement unit of the buffer. – thang Jan 26 '13 at 19:38
"Paid by the hour" means you'll get paid during that hour (before that hour passes). – Z3r0n3 Jan 26 '13 at 19:44
@Z3r0n3 no, it doesn't. It means you get paid on a per-hour basis. – thang Jan 26 '13 at 19:45
@thang: It might depend how much you value your own time. If I was asked to spend an hour dealing with a really taxing job, in return for being given a month off, I might give it some serious consideration! – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '13 at 19:45
@FumbleFingers, or equivalently the dollars equal to my time for a month. between the two, i would prefer the dollars. i guess i am greedy :p well, dollar is more flexible in that i can choose not to work for a month with the dollars, or i can choose to work for a month and get more $. – thang Jan 26 '13 at 19:55
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The two examples involve different roles for the unit. You could have, for example,

The variable 'len', which contains the buffer length in bytes, changes by the minute.

He is paid by the hour, in pound notes.

It's the difference between by what method? [incl. how often?], and in what units?.

share|improve this answer

The convention is different because the objects in the expressions are different.

Both "in bytes" and "in hours" mean in units of said. A buffer size is actually measured in bytes, while being paid in hours is ambiguous at best. Unless someone has created an avatar of time that is now a currency, that wouldn't even be payment, it would be barter!

The expression "to be paid by the hour" refers to how the payment is calculated. Instead of being set by number of commissions secured, their pay is set by the number of hours they work.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.