Is “About” a Preposition or a Conjunction? – Strategies for Parents

Is “About” a Preposition or a Conjunction?

Both prepositions and conjunctions are seemingly insignificant parts of a sentence. Yet without them, a sentence can be either incorrect or incomplete. Some words can act as a few different parts of speech, and “about” is one of them.  

The word “about” is not a conjunction. It can be a preposition, an adverb, and even an adjective. As a preposition, “about” shows the subject of or connection with an idea. As an adverb, it shows an approximation of time, number, or quantity. And, as an adjective, “about” can tell you more about a noun or pronoun.

Keep reading to understand more about using the word “about” correctly as a preposition (the most common way), as an adverb, and as an adjective. 

“About”: A Preposition, Adverb, and Adjective

There are many ways that you can use the word “about” in your writing — it is a word that can function as three different parts of speech: a preposition, an adverb, and sometimes, even as an adjective.

The most common way to use “about” is as a preposition, so we will cover that first. But remember that it is sometimes difficult to identify the exact usage or part of speech, especially with words like “about.” 

What matters more is that you understand the nuances in meaning and how to use the word correctly in your writing.  

Grammar: Understanding “About” as a Preposition 

We won’t focus on the various prepositions and what they all mean here. Still, it would be best if you first understood their role in a complete sentence. 

A preposition is a word you can use in connection with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to describe a relationship between other words in your sentence (source). 

Many times, people refer to prepositions as “connector” words, and because of this, they are easy to confuse with conjunctions since conjunctions also connect ideas and words within a sentence. But their role is quite different.  

The most common conjunctions include “and,” “or,” and “but.” You’ll often use these words to connect related ideas, such as in “I’m going to get ice cream and cookies after dinner.”

On the other hand, you would use a preposition before a noun to show direction, time, place, to introduce an object, or to identify a spatial relationship. A preposition essentially connects a noun to a larger idea. Here is an example:

  1. I am going to go home.

In the above sentence, the preposition “to” connects or shows the relationship between the subject (I) and where they are going (home). 

There are quite a few prepositions in English — about 150 or so, to be exact. If you’d like to learn more about prepositions, take a look at the article, “In the Website or on the Website: Using the Right Preposition.”

Is “About” a Preposition?

As we’ve stated, the word “about” is indeed a preposition. As a preposition, “about” can indicate the movement of a noun to a specific (or general) location, or it can show the subject of something when you are writing or speaking.

As a preposition, “about” can have four distinct meanings (source):

  • To be positioned around a location without any particular order
  • To be in a specific place
  • To indicate movement within a particular area
  • To be on the subject of or connected with

Examples and Usage: When “About” Is a Preposition

Let’s go through some examples that show how you can use “about” as a preposition in your writing. Remember that this is the most common way you will see (and use) the word.

  • Her belongings were strewn about her room, even though I asked her to clean up. 

In the sentence above, “about” indicates that the subject’s belongings were positioned in her bedroom in a disordered manner, or rather, all over the place. 

Here’s another example where you can use “about” to show a more specific location or place:

  • Do you have an extra piece of gum about you? 

Similar to the first sentence, here, the word “about” indicates location. But in this sense, it is a very particular place — on you/your person or body. 

One thing to note with this use is that it is not at all common, and very rarely will you hear this phrasing in American English.

You may hear and use this more frequently with British English, but in the United States, you will more likely simply say, “Do you have an extra piece of gum?” or “Do you have an extra piece of gum on you?” Note that the word “on” is also a preposition.

Here’s another example:

  • She looked about the crowded room for her sister

In this example, “about” shows where the subject is looking — it indicates movement (looking) and the location of the movement.  

In each of the three above sentences, “about” is a preposition showing a position, place, or movement. 

But the most common way you will use the word as a preposition is to indicate a subject or connection with an idea, like this: 

  • I’m not sure what the movie is about, but I’m happy to go see it with you.  
  • “I am worried about starting middle school this year,” the little girl told her mom.

These final two examples indicate “a connection with” an idea — in the first sentence, the movie, and in the second, starting middle school. Again, this is the most common way you will use the word, so keep that in mind.  

Image by Rohit Farmer via Unsplash

Grammar: Understanding “About” as an Adverb

In addition to being a preposition, “about” can also be an adverb. An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, another adverb, or adjective and most often expresses some relationship to manner or quality, time or place, and/or degree or number (source). 

In essence, adverbs answer common questions, including:

  1. When?
  2. Where?
  3. How?
  4. How much?
  5. How long?
  6. How often?

We can easily detect many adverbs because they end in the suffix “ly,” but not all of them.  

Is the Word “About” an Adverb? 

You can use “about” as an adverb in your writing. If you are using it as a modifying word to explain a verb, another adverb, or an adjective more specifically, you are using it as an adverb.  

Similarly, there are multiple definitions and/or meanings for “about” when you use it in this way:

  • To show a little more or less than a stated number
  • To indicate almost, soon, or nearly
  • To indicate many different directions
  • To indicate a position or movement around a place or in or near a place

You’ll notice that some of these definitions are quite close to when you use “about” as a preposition. Just remember that knowing exactly which part of speech it is in your sentence matters less than understanding if you are using it correctly to communicate your intended meaning.

There is some overlap in meaning, so just remember that adverbs are modifying words, meaning that they add to or change the meaning of a verb, adverb, or adjective; prepositions show the relationship between words. 

Examples and Usage: When “About” Is an Adverb

Let’s look at some examples of how you can use “about” as an adverb.

  • My husband is just about six feet tall, but not quite.  

In the example above, “about” indicates that the subject’s husband is a little less than six feet tall. Remember that as an adverb, “about” can show more or less than a particular number.

  • I am about ready to go, but I need a few more minutes.

Here, “about” shows that the subject is nearly or almost ready to go, but not quite.

  • My sister looked like she was about to cry

In the sentence above, “about” combined with the be-verb “was” modifies the infinitive verb “to cry,” indicating that the person’s sister was on the verge of crying.

Grammar: Understanding “About” as an Adjective

Similar to adverbs, adjectives are describing words. They differ, though, because they describe nouns and often answer questions like “what kind” or “how many,” whereas adverbs describe more about verbs or adverbs or adjectives.

Most adjectives are pretty easy to spot since we know that they often provide visual detail in some capacity, such as a “yellow flower” or “six boxes.” 

Using “about” as an adjective is probably the least common way you will see it, but it is correct, and you can certainly use it in this way.

Is “About” an Adjective?

“About” can be an adjective. If “about” tells your reader something more regarding a noun or pronoun, then you are using it as an adjective. Remember that adjectives can only modify nouns or pronouns.

But, do remember that “about” as an adjective has very few uses, and you will rarely see it in this way with the exception of a few common phrases, such as “out and about” or “up and about.”

Examples and Usage: When “About” is an Adjective

You might also say, “My mom is up and about at 4:00 a.m. every morning.” This is one common way that you may see “about” as an adjective. To be “up and about” means that you are awake and moving around or doing something. To say you are “out and about” is quite similar. You may see a sentence like this:

  • I was out and about today, shopping for my sister’s birthday present.

The phrase “out and about” means that you are doing one thing or another. The reason we would classify this use of “about” as an adjective is because it provides more detail to the subject of the sentence or noun, in this case, “I.” 

Understanding “about” as an adjective can be tricky, given that it is not as easily detectable as such. We more often think of adjectives as simple descriptive words like “happy” or “vanilla” or “blue.” 

Again, don’t forget that identifying the particular part of speech is not always easy, especially with words like “about,” given it has multiple meanings and a lot of overlap when it comes to the particular part of speech. 

Tips to Remember: Identifying the Correct Part of Speech for “About”

There are some simple points you can remember to correctly identify what part of speech you are using when writing the word “about.” First, remember that it will most often be a preposition, but it can also be either an adverb or an adjective.

While adjectives and adverbs are describing words, remember that prepositions are different in that they show a relationship to time or space. So, differentiating between these uses is pretty easy in that sense if you are trying to identify which part of speech “about” is in your sentence. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

  1. Prepositions show a relationship between words — time, location, or space.
  2. Adverbs are words that describe verbs or other adverbs.
  3. Adjectives only describe nouns.
About as a Preposition-Shows a position around a location without any particular order
-Shows a specific place
-Shows movement within a particular area
-Shows the subject of or connection with something
About as an Adverb-Shows a little more or less than a stated number
-Shows that something is almost, soon, or nearly going to happen
-Shows many different directions
-Shows a position or movement around a place or in or near a place
About as an Adjective-Modifies or describes a noun
-Commonly seen in phrases like “up and about” or “out and about”

Final Thoughts

There are some words in English that you will see quite often, and many of them can be more than one particular part of speech, depending on how you use the word. “About” is only one example.  

Remember, the most common way you will use “about” is as a preposition and, in this way, as a word that communicates a subject or idea or a connection with a subject or idea. You will likely structure most sentences in this way, such as “What is your book about?” or “I was thinking about you today.”

And finally, remember that identifying the particular part of speech, while valuable, is not the most important point — it is always better to understand the meaning and how to use the word correctly. The more detailed aspects of grammar will come with time and practice. 

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