The ODE defines the preposition about in such a distinct sense that other dictionaries don't:

1.1 So as to affect.

  • I Just found one example of 'about' used in such a sense: 'there's nothing we can do about it'.

What is meant by so as to affect in the subsense provided by ODE? I could not comprehend this subsense as soon as I read it, I just tried to use it . . . and I made the following sentences:

  • What should I tell you about it?

  • The reason is that I don't know more about it.

If you google the preposition about, you will see that other online dictionaries, like Cambridge,TFD and Merriam Webster do not define about in such a sense.

Doesn't it show that this sense is only used in British dialect? If so, why not in other dialects?

  • 1
    I took a look at your first link (Cambridge). It does actually define it in the sense you are questioning. Here's the sentence: I wish you'd do something about (= take action to solve the problem of) your bedroom - it's a real mess.
    – S Conroy
    Aug 21, 2018 at 12:24
  • @SConroy, okay. Can you please ellaborate that what does mean by 'so as to affect' in the definition provided by ODE?
    – Ahmed
    Aug 21, 2018 at 12:54
  • 1
    do smth. about it = do smth. so as to affect it = do smth. in order to change/solve it
    – Alex_ander
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:05
  • @Alex_ander, can you please explain it a bit in answer. It's helpful, I would love to accept your answer.
    – Ahmed
    Aug 21, 2018 at 13:11
  • I don't know why you brought up the British usage issue here. It just so happens that the next two definitions in your link (2: Used to indicate movement within a particular area; 3:Used to express location in a particular place) are both identified as BrE. But this has no bearing on the usage and definition you're actually asking about, which is ODE's sense 1. Aug 21, 2018 at 15:31

2 Answers 2


When using about to mean so as to affect, you would also need to use the auxilliary verb 'do'.

It is in line with the idiomatic expression "do something about"

to take some sort of action to correct (a situation) We need to do something about this problem.

If you look at the example sentence given from the Oxford Dictionary link you provided in your question:

  • there's nothing we can do about it.

this means that there is no action we can take which will affect the situation (we would like to affect)

Note that there are further example sentences in the Oxford Dictionary link (click on + more example sentences below the first example)

  • We now have a better understanding as to why the firm is not accelerating in a growing marketplace, and what it is doing about it.

This means they have a better understanding of why the firm is not accelerating, and what action the firm is taking to affect the situation (probably actions which will improve the firm's performance)

  • The system is rubbish, but there's nothing I can do about that.

In this case the writer is saying that there is no action they can take which will affect the situation - like in the first example you gave (perhaps taking steps to improve the system by making it better)

In your own example sentences, 'about' is being used to mean 'concerning'

If you replace them with 'concerning' they will still make sense, but won't sound as natural.

  • What should I tell you concerning it?

  • The reason is that I don't know more concerning it.


So as to (followed by an infinitive) is an idiom, equivalent to in order to (or with intention to do something)



The explanation you've found in the Oxford Dictionary suggests that you substitute 'so as to affect' for 'about' in the expression 'there's nothing we can do about it', for better understanding how the preposition 'about' works in that particular expression. To simplify things even more, you can use (for that substitution) a less idiomatic equivalent expression 'in order to (solve)' instead of 'so as to (affect)', before you get used to it.

So you get a chain of possible replacements: do smth. about it = do smth. so as to affect it = do smth. in order to change/solve it.

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