1. Approximately; nearly: The interview lasted about an hour.
2. Almost: The job is about done.
3. To a reversed position or direction: Turn about and walk away slowly.
4. In no particular direction: wandering about with no place to go.
5. All around; on every side: Let's look about for help.
6. In the area or vicinity; near: spoke to a few spectators standing about.
7. In succession; one after another: Turn about is fair play.
a. On the verge of doing something; presently going to do something. Used with the infinitive: The chorus is about to sing.
b. Usage Problem Used to show determination or intention in negative constructions with an infinitive: I am not about to concede the point.
1. On all sides of; surrounding: I found an English garden all about me.
2. In the vicinity of; around: explored the rivers and streams about the estate.
3. Almost the same as; close to; near.
a. In reference to; relating to; concerned with: a book about snakes.
b. In the act or process of: While you're about it, please clean your room.
5. In the possession or innate character of: Keep your wits about you.
1. Moving here and there; astir: The patient is up and about.
2. Being in evidence or existence: Rumors are about concerning his resignation.
[Middle English, from Old English onbūtan : on, in; see ON + būtan, outside; see ud- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: The preposition about is traditionally used to refer to the relation between a narrative and its subject: a book about Cézanne; a movie about the Boston Massacre. For some time, this usage has been extended beyond narratives to refer to the relation between various kinds of nouns and the things they entail or make manifest: The party was mostly about showing off their new offices. You don't understand what the women's movement is about. This controversial usage probably originates with the familiar expression all about, as in Let me tell you all about her. In our 2001 survey, 62 percent of the Usage Panel rejected about in the party example listed above, and 51 percent rejected Their business is about matching people with the right technology. In 1988, 59 percent rejected a similar example. It is probably best to limit this use of about to more informal contexts. · When followed by an infinitive, about to means "on the verge of," as in I'm about to go downtown. The construction not about to usually expresses intention or determination, as in We are not about to negotiate with terrorists. This usage was considered unacceptable in formal writing to a majority of the Usage Panel in 1988, but resistance has eroded with familiarity. Fully 82 percent accepted it in our 2001 survey.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.