Usage of about

Can somebody please tell me if the following sentence is OK?

  1. We are about to begin in 5 minutes.

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Colloquially, it is OK; logically it is a little suspect-- when are we about to begin, now or after 5 minutes? Then we will begin in 6 minutes?
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To me, it’s wholly logical. It means we are on the point of beginning the next action, phase, etc. The perception of “on the point of” lies with the speaker and depends on the context.

The same with “the train is about to leave”. Has the train left? No, but if you don’t move your butt, you will miss it.

How long is “about to” here, MrM?

Look at those clouds. It’s about to rain.

And I guess you wouldn’t suspect “soon” here, would you?

John will arrive soon, so let’s get ready.

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I agree with Mister Micawber that colloquially it would be OK, but the wording sounds a little odd to me too. I’d say the speaker probably intended to define “about to begin” as meaning “begin in five minutes”. In other words, “in five minutes” sounds as though it might have been added as an afterthought.

Possible alternatives would be “We are going to begin in about 5 minutes” or simply “We are about to begin”.
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Yes, thank you, Amy-- that’s the ambiguity I see, too.
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An afterthought; or maybe a muddling conflation of:

  1. We are about to begin.
  2. We begin in five minutes.

MrP

So would you say that the second example is non-idiomatic and/or illogical?

we are going to begin soon
?we are about to begin soon

And what’s your opinion on this usage?

I am not about to concede the point.

“About to do X” suggests a continuum between “now” and “doing X”.

“In five minutes” and “soon” disrupt that continuum; though in different ways.

MrP

But “we will be about to begin soon” maintains that continuum, right?

How about this?

  1. We are about to begin soon.

— disrupts the continuum.

  1. We will be about to begin soon.

— does not disrupt the continuum; but suggests a fairly fluffy-minded speaker.

MrP

Ah, MrP, you always look on the dark side. The speaker might be employing mock-fluffiness, there. Or, surprise - not - sarcasm.

Indeed. And the possibility of mock-fluffiness validates the non-mock interpretation.

We seem to be in agreement, old chap.

MrP