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about to

The film is about to start.

phrase
be about to do (something)
for talking about the immediate future

About to is not a tense. It is a special structure that we use to talk about the immediate future. If you are about to do something, you are going to do it very soon.

What is the structure of about to?

The structure of about to is:

subject + be + about to + base verb
The film is about to start.

In this structure the verb be is conjugated (for example, am, are, is). The base verb does not change of course. Look at these examples:

subject be about to base verb
I am about to leave.
You are about to discover.
It is about to end.
We are about to eat.
They are about to pay.

How do we use about to?

We use about to when something is going to happen very soon, sometimes immediately. Look at these examples:

about to with different tenses

The examples above are with the present simple tense (am, are, is). But we can also use about to with the past simple tense (was, were) and the future simple tense (will be). For example:

Occasionally we may use about to with more complex tenses such as present perfect and past perfect, or with modals like could and might, as below:

about to with "just"

We can stress how quickly the action is coming by adding "just" in front of about to, for example:

about to - Remember that "very soon" is relative.

As you see above, we use about to for actions coming very soon (usually within minutes or almost immediately). But "very soon" can be relative. It depends on the overall action or "story". If we are talking about a story over several months or years, then "very soon" could be a few days or weeks. Look at these examples:

about to with "not"

Using not with about to can have two meanings. You will usually understand the meaning from the context:

1. normal negative meaning, for example:

2. indicate unwillingness (typically AmE), for example:

about to with questions

To make questions with about to, the subject and verb are reversed, as usual with be questions, for example:

Example sentences

Here is a mixture of typical sentences using about to made with various tenses:

Further reading