I would like to know if there is a difference in usage between these 2 structures.

In other words what situations might suit one and not the other?

  • It's about time.
  • It's a matter of time.

It is about time (about an event or action) is used when saying that it is past the time when something should have happened: it’s about time she got a job; it's about time you shaved.

About time

It is [only] a matter of time before (or until) something happens is used to express that something is sure to happen at some time in the future, but we are not sure exactly when. The house is burning, and it is only a matter of time before it collapses. If you keep swearing in the office, it is only a matter of time until you are dismissed. If you continue to torment the dog, it is only a matter of time before he bites you.

Only a matter of time

  • "It's about time" conveys anger or frustration. "A matter of time" does not have a characteristic emotion: it can be hope, expectation, resignation, fatalism, reassurance... – Colin Fine Jul 28 '18 at 9:02
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    No, a common use of "It's about time" is an exclamation when the event has, at last, happened. – Colin Fine Jul 28 '18 at 9:11
  • "It's about time" ... conveys also that something should happen soon. I agree with @ColinFine that "It's about time" has a higher level of emotion, at least in conversations, than "only a matter of time." I think it's about time he gets stronger, don't you ? .. Yeah I think so. – Arch Capital Jul 28 '18 at 13:30
  • @ColinFine At one minute after the hour, somebody says, It's about time for the fireworks to start. There may be rising emotion the more something is past due, but it's a mischaracterization to exclude emotional-neutral contexts. Also, the emotions involved need not be just anger or frustration; they could be relief, excitement, or even sadness (in a hospital: It's about time she let go, but it's a shame anyway). – Jason Bassford Jul 28 '18 at 15:44
  • @JasonBassford. True. But that is not an example of the idiom "it's about time" . It's a version of the phrase "It's time for", qualified by "about". The idiom I am referring to, "It's about time" doesn't normally take a "for" complement. – Colin Fine Jul 28 '18 at 22:27

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