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All About 'About'

All About 'About'
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher we answer a question from Ygor in Brazil.


Hello guys! My name is Ygor and I’d like to say you all are amazing, fantastic, superb, etc. I just love this channel … but the preposition “about” is just killing me. I can’t get why sometimes people use “about” followed by “ing” and sometimes followed by an infinitive. Thanks a lot!

Ygor, Brazil.


Dear Ygor,

Thank you for your kind words. You asked an interesting question because there are several uses of about. The word can be either an adverb or a preposition. In some cases, it acts as an adjective. Let us look at the adverb form first.

About as an adverb

Adverbs describe a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a statement. When we use “about” as an adverb, it can mean “almost” or “nearly,” as in this example:

We are about ready to take a walk.

With numbers, you can use “about” when you are not sure of the exact amount.

We will be gone for about twenty minutes.

And here is the point where you will hear an infinitive verb with “to” after “about” when the adverb means you are very close to doing something.

We are about to leave for our walk. Are you coming?

About as a preposition

Now, let us think about how “about” works as a preposition. As you probably know, a preposition shows direction, place, or time, or introduces an object. Prepositions are used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase.

“About” as a preposition indicates the subject of a thought, feeling or action, as in,

Stop shouting about the problem and do something!

When we add “ing” to a verb, we are making it a gerund – which is a word that acts like a noun. In this statement, a gerund follows “about.”

We talked about buying a car.

The gerund, “buying” is the subject of what is being said.

About as an adjective

Finally, we can find “about” being used as an adjective, that is, to describe a noun or pronoun. Here is an example of a feeling many of us have had these days:

After the lockdown, it feels great to be out and about again.

Here, “out and about” means outside of one’s home. I hope this helps you use “about” more confidently, Ygor.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

confident - adj. having a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

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