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I found that is about to is used in the following sentence of the news article titled “Tech belt sees hiring surge” in The Boston Globe.

“The company is about to go on a hiring spree, from four employees to as many as 15, according to Andrew Joseph, its cofounder.”

Why has the journalist used is about to rather than is going to (“The company is going to go [...] )”? Is it grammatical is about to when that is referred to an inanimate subject (in the sentence above 'the company').

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Don't know about the grammaticality, but "about to" conveys a greater sense that the occurrence is impending. –  zpletan Apr 30 '12 at 19:08
    
In Southern U.S., "is fixin' to" is synonomous with "is about to". –  jimreed Apr 30 '12 at 19:13
    
@jimreed: In Southern UK, "is fixing to" implies more "intends to" rather than "will soon [do something]". Where imminence is the crucial factor, "looks fit [to die, for example]" isn't uncommon. –  FumbleFingers Apr 30 '12 at 21:32
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"Going to", grammar books will say, express intention and confident predictions in the near future. The latter can be translated in Italian to "sta per". Intention does not necessarily mean it will be carried out, but it's very close. "About to" is imminent, there should be no going back, but it all depends on the meaning you want to convey. For example. "He was about to write an email when the phone rang, and he became distracted." –  Mari-Lou A Jun 21 '13 at 4:44

3 Answers 3

Using about to in this way is intended to create a sense of immediacy or urgency. If the company is "about to" go on a hiring spree, they will probably begin the hiring spree as soon as they can. As another example:

I'm about to empty the garbage.

A listener can assume I'm probably standing in front of the garbage can and I might have already removed and tied the bag. I have not yet taken the garbage bag to the bin out back, but it will happen in the next minute or two.

I'm going to empty the garbage.

A listener knows that I have plans to take the garbage out. It will probably not happen immediately, but they can assume that it will happen some time today, when I have several minutes to spare.

As Lynn pointed out in the comments, the immediacy of the event is relative when about to is used. Some events are implied to have more immediate time frames than others, and this will depend on the context. When it's not clear just how immediate the event is, a common response might be "What, right now? This minute?".

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About creates relative urgency based on the task at hand. "I'm about to go to France" is certainly more immediate than "I'm going to go to France" but I don't think either implies a specific timeframe. –  Lynn Apr 30 '12 at 21:54

about to conveys a sense of 'in the near future' or 'already set to' whereas going to does not indicate a time frame.

"Don't always interrupt when I'm about to speak." (whenI'm starting to speak)

"When I grow up, I'm going to be a doctor." (sometime in the future)

"Be fast. They're going to close the shop now." (anytime now, soon)

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The third example: Are you trying to show that going to can have the same meaning as about to when you add now? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 30 '12 at 21:21
    
@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner: Yes, as would be the case with, for example, "Be quick. They're just going to close." But on it's own, with no other context, "going to" doesn't really have any implications one way or the other as to whether the thing referred to is going to happen very soon, or eventually. –  FumbleFingers Apr 30 '12 at 21:36
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Yes. The third example is intended to show the 'open' nature of going to and how it can (needs to) be qualified with 'anytime now'. –  Kris May 1 '12 at 7:09

I agree with what the above posts and comments say about immediacy of an action or simple willingness to do something.

However, in the given sentence, if you used the "going to" form, you would end up with "The company is going to go on a hiring spree", which sounds cacophonic to say the least.

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