about to

1 The phrase to be about to [VERB] is used to express that someone is ON THE VERGE of doing something. 

However, bear in mind that on the verge is relative; depending on the context, someone can be minutes or even seconds away from doing something, or they can be days, weeks or months away and we could still use this expression. 

For instance, in the snippet below, the speaker is moments away from sending the email. But in another context, some company could just as well be several weeks away from launching a new product and claim that it's about to do it.


Note that with this same meaning, it's common to hear to be fixing to and to be getting ready to. In other words, in the snippet below, it's just as correct to say I'm fixing to send  and I'm getting ready to send. 

Hey, I'm about to send my boss this email. Can you check it and make sure everything's correct?

2 The phrase about to is also used to warn people that you're ON THE VERGE OF REACTING to something — usually something unpleasant — in a very emotional way or that you're on the verge of reacting violently to someone or something.

Nina comes home with her dream bed from IKEA and soon realizes that putting it together is no easy feat. Her roommate comes home and sees her frustration and offers to help.


Billy: What?! You haven’t even put the legs on!

Nina: I just can’t figure anything out from these stupid drawings. Why don’t they just write the instructions out like everyone else?!

Billy: Nina, I’m an engineer. This’ll take me all of 20 minutes to put together.

Nina: Have at it, then, because I’m about to burst into tears.

____________________⦿ all of 20 minutes | «Only twenty minutes, believe it or not» | All of is used with numbers to emphasize how incredibly high or low they are, depending on the context. Learn more here.⦿ have at it | «Go right ahead, if you think you can do it» | Used to give someone permission to do or try to do something you can't seem to do yourself. Learn more here.⦿ about to burst into tears | Naturally, this is hyperbolic language used to make a point. She isn't literally about to cry — she just feels that frustrated. You'll also hear about to scream in this context.
In this snippet, Nina let's Billy know just how frustrated she is by warning him that she feels she could start crying any minute. 
Here, Andy gives his sister fair warning that if she doesn't control her husband, he's on the verge of losing control.

Andy goes to a party with his sister, Claire, and her husband, Bobby. When Bobby starts talking badly about his mother-in-law — Clair and Andy's mother — Andy starts to lose his cool.


Andy: Uh... is Bobby drunk or something? Why does he keep badmouthing our mom?

Claire: They've been arguing a lot since she moved in with us. He's just venting.

Andy: Well, he shouldn't be "venting" at a party in front of complete strangers, much less in front of me! You better tell him to watch himself — I'm about to punch him in the mouth!

______________________⦿ Uh... | used instead of hey to get someone's attention somewhat sternly ⦿ to badmouth someone | To talk badly about someone — usually behind their back.⦿ to vent | To talk to someone about a problem in order to make yourself feel better; so as to not keep it inside.⦿ to watch oneself | To be very careful in one's actions — especially when there are dire consequences.⦿ to punch | To hit someone with a closed fist.

3a The above affirmative uses of about to refer to when someone is going to do something. However, the negative phrase not about to has nothing to do with when you perform an action but rather expresses a REFUSAL TO DO SOMETHING — you simply have no intention of doing it. 

This decision can be based on principle: you don't believe it's the correct or decent thing to do and you refuse to do it, or it can simply be an out-and-out refusal to do something for whatever reason. 

For instance, in this meme, the woman has «absolutely no intention of going through another divorce». She'd rather stay in a loveless marriage and pretend to love her husband.

It's important to note that the affirmative phrase about to doesn't mean the opposite of not about to as explained in 3a and 3b. In other words, if you are willing to do something, you can't say I'm about to to express that. The affirmative use of about to always and only means on the verge of doing something.

Here, Joe obviously thinks it'd be cruel and senseless to put a dog down for having a condition that isn't life-threatening, and he refuses to do it!

Joe's dog is getting old and having trouble walking. His brother sees him carrying her outside to do her business and makes a ridiculous suggestion. 


Joe: I'm taking Daisy out. I'll be right back. 

Christian: Dude, Daisy can barely walk on her own anymore. You should really think about putting her down now. She's only going to get worse.

Joe: Really, Christian? That's your solution? I'm not about to put my dog down just because she has arthritis.

______________________⦿ on her own | When you do something on your own, you do it without any help from anyone⦿ to put down | To euthanize a pet. We also say to put {a pet} to sleep.

3b With a bit of a snide, defensive intonation, not about to can be used in response to a ridiculous suggestion or idea to do something that could somehow put you in danger or make you vulnerable, in which case it has a nuance of «I'm NOT STUPID ENOUGH to do such a thing»

For instance, in this meme, the man is referring to himself. First he told himself You should stop drinking, and then decided that he's NOT STUPID ENOUGH to listen to himself — a drunk who talks to himself 😂

Here, unlike the snippet about the dog, Joe isn't reluctant to give the girl his address out of principle — he simply thinks it'd be stupid in this day and age to give a total stranger his home address. Also note that this can be used in the past tense. Looking back on this day, Joe could say I wasn't about to give my address to a total stranger.

Alex and Joe are having a drink after work when Alex notices a girl across the room, looking at his friend.


Alex: Dude, that girl over there's totally checking you out. You should give her your address and invite her to your party tomorrow night.

Joe: She's hot all right, but I'm not about to give my address to a total stranger. She could be a complete psycho for all I know.

______________________⦿ to check someone out | to look at someone with romantic or sexual interest⦿ ...all right | «I won't argue with that» | Added to the end of a statement confirming what someone just said, to express that you wouldn't argue with it; you fully agree.⦿ psycho | [sái̯kou̯] | a complete maniac; short for psychopath⦿ for all I know | «She could very well be a psychopath!» | Used to express that something could very possibly be true, but you have no way of knowing for sure. Note that it can be used before or after the statement in question: For all I know, she could be a complete psycho.

How do you say this in your language? 

It may help others if you translate the snippets into your own native language. Tell us below. And please don't forget to vote if you enjoyed this page.