grammatical expression: about to


Today I have another common expression that I almost never hear my students use. However, it’s a very useful expression: “about to”. It is used when we want to say something is going to happen in the very near future. For example:

I’m about to go home now. Is there anything you need from me before I leave?

We have to hurry! The movie is just about to start!

I was just about to order a pizza on the phone, but my roommate beat me to it.

A: Hello.

B: Hi Jim. This is Sandy.

A: Sandy! Hi! I was just about to call you.

As you can see, we often use the word “just” in front of it. Also, we can use this expression with either the present tense or the past tense. If we use it with the present tense, as in the first two examples, it means that the event will happen very soon, probably within five minutes. If we use it in the past tense, as in the last two examples, it means that the person was planning to do something very soon (probably within five minutes), but another person beat them to it. The idiom “to beat someone to it” means someone did an action before another person could do it. If you don’t remember this idiom well, please review my blog from April 2nd.

Sometimes, “about to” can mean something will happen in the future at a time which is more than a few minutes. For example:

I’m about to go on vacation to Spain! I’m so excited!

The new project is about to start! I’m really looking forward to it!

In these cases, the time period is probably between one day and one week, but it would probably not be used if the vacation or project will start at a time which is more than one week away.

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