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If I wanted to ask someone approximately when they would be doing something, for example arriving, I could use

Approximately when do you think you could do that?

Would the following be a correct and acceptable colloquial alternative?

When about do you think you could do that?

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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

When about seems rare (with the "approximately when" meaning). I did find one example in the British National Corpus from an oral history interview (formatting and punctuation added):

And er, so what, er, what, er, sort of era was, when about was this? still right at the beginning of the war when you were doing this, or ...?
That would have been, I would say, maybe August nineteen thirty eight.

I don't recall hearing when about often (eastern USA) but I am certain I've heard when abouts. I can't find evidence of this in any corpus I searched, but keep in mind that most of the spoken language samples available, for example, in COCA, are from news broadcasts. If your intent is to accurately represent colloquial speech, when abouts or whenabouts may be appropriate. It seems to be common enough in various dialects that people have questions about it, and there are plenty of search results (it seems common in forums). When abouts is also used by people on Twitter, usually in questions:

when abouts do you think you will be back?

When abouts would not be common where formal register is required. I probably wouldn't even use it in an email; I'd replace it with one of the more commonly written expressions pointed out by @Rachel or @drɱ65 δ. However, I wouldn't be surprised if, walking down the hall, my boss were to ask me, When abouts do you think you could do that?

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No, when about wouldn't sound proper. About when sounds fine; though, not being a world-traveler, I don't know how people in various English-speaking areas will understand it.

About when do you think you could do that?

Edit: Ngrams reveals a marked preference for About when at the beginning of the sentence, when compared with Approximately when and Around when.

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Perhaps you could write: When (about) do you think you could do that? But I agree, "About when..." is what I would say. –  GEdgar Aug 27 '11 at 17:50
    
"Around when" is more common here, I think. –  Karl Knechtel Aug 27 '11 at 20:23
    
Not according to Ngrams. –  Daniel Aug 27 '11 at 20:24
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You could just drop the "about" without changing the meaning:

When do you think you could do that?
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An alternative might be - "At what point in time do you think you could do that?" Another could be - "At what time do you think you could do that?"

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