Posted by: Jack Henry | September 27, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Around, About, Approximately

The words around, about, and approximately all indicate uncertainty or imprecision. Here are the definitions from Merriam-Webster:

  • around: in the neighborhood of
  • about: with some approach to exactness in quantity, number, or time
  • approximately: reasonably close to

Although around, about, and approximately mean roughly the same thing, they imply subtly different levels of formality and precision.

Consider the following sentences. Which would you say to your friend? Which would you say to the police?

  • I left work around 4:30.
  • I left work at approximately 4:30.

According to the AMA Style Insider blog, “Authorities for the most part agree that around, about, and approximately lie on a scale from casual to formal. As it happens, around is also thought of as the most imprecise and approximately the most precise, with about falling somewhere in between.”

Symitar Technical Publications doesn’t use the American Medical Association’s AMA Manual of Style, but The Chicago Manual of Style offers similar advice: “When idiomatically possible, use the adverb about instead of approximately. In the sciences, however, approximately is preferred {approximately 32 coding-sequence differences were identified}.”

Most of the writing you do at work falls somewhere between talking to a friend and writing a scientific research paper. Around is too casual. Approximately is too formal (unless you want to signal a high degree of precision). For everyday writing, about is just right.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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