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I was reading the book Advanced Grammar in Use (Martin Hewings) and there was an example:

  • I’ll be there by (the) morning / ... by (the) evening.

but

  • ... by the afternoon, not … by afternoon)

But when I compare "by afternoon"with "by the afternoon" using Ludwig, the phrase "by afternoon" is not just acceptable, but actually more common. Some examples are:

  • By afternoon, Steve still hadn't arrived.

  • By afternoon, the entire army was exhausted.

So I wonder: are both the phrases acceptable and do they have the same meaning?

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Although I prefer the sound of 'by the afternoon' or 'by that afternoon', Google ngrams (several tokens checked; no false positives) show that 'by afternoon' seems quite as idiomatic as 'by the afternoon' and was probably the preferred version between the 1940s and 1970s:

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    It sounds okay to me as is. Maybe it's a UK-US difference. Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 5:28
  • Quite possibly. Re-reading, I get an unavoidable connotation of sandwiches on the lawn in a pleasant garden. Been watching too much Poirot / Father Brown .... Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 12:06
  • Sounds lovely. But were there deadlines and ultimatums in that environment? Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 21:07
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    The sandwiches disappear quickly. Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 17:44

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