Both “about” and “around” mean “reasonably close to” when you’re referring to a general or estimated amount of time. While both are interchangeable for the other, there are a few nuances of difference. They aren’t major or strict rules to follow, but they do show a certain finesse when used properly.
Regardless of the differences, even if you make a mistake and use “about” where you should use “around,” not many people will take notice. But, it’s good to study these at an intricate level to help expand your knowledge base.
“About” in Regards to Time
“About” means “reasonably close to” in terms of time to convey a guess/estimate or indicate an actual time. So, specification will be the determiner but both ways will infer “reasonably close to.”
It can denote a particular time of day, such as morning, afternoon or evening. Also, you can use it when you’re referring to a specific amount of time when using something like “o’clock.”
Please turn in your report about midnight tomorrow.
I plan on arriving at the hotel at about two o’clock.
“Around” in Regards to Time
“Around” also denotes “reasonably close to” in terms of a relationship to time. However, this is vaguer and gives a wider range of estimates than using “about.” Regardless, “around” and “about” can be interchangeable.
But, where you would use “o’clock” for “about,” you use “around” for the day/night abbreviations “a.m.” and “p.m.” That said, you can use “about” for “a.m./p.m.” and “around” for “o’clock.” It’s not incorrect, but it has formality in its usage.
Please turn in your report around midnight tomorrow.
I plan on arriving at the hotel around two p.m.
I plan on arriving at the hotel around two o’clock.
“Around” can also give a range or distance between times. Although acceptable, you can’t always use “about” in the same way because it sounds funny in a grammatical and linguistic sense.
I plan on arriving at the hotel around two p.m. to 10 p.m.
I plan on arriving at the hotel about two p.m. to 10 p.m.
There are no hard rules or definitive guidelines for using “about” or “around” when you want to make an estimate of time. But, if you’d like to be specific about it, use “about” for more specific lengths of time and use “around” for time ranges.
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