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I've come across this sentence recently:

All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you.

Is this a correct sentence? "All around you" would seem more standard to me. Of note this sentence is part of an example on the importance of punctuation, so maybe it's not the most natural wording, but I'm not sure whether it's even correct.

  • Hello, Jack. Dictionaries give a lot of example sentences nowadays. Which have you looked in? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 20 '19 at 15:22
  • It's hard to imagine punctuation in that sentence having much bearing. Granted, removing the comma after "people" makes the following clause restrictive, but in this instance, it doesn't net much difference in meaning overall, making this not very good for an example. – user361733 Sep 20 '19 at 15:32
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Yes, this usage is acceptable, it is just antiquated and not commonly used today. For example, you could say:

"All about me were enemies, and the battlefield was empty of allies."

or referring to nature

"All about me were trees, and the pleasant sound of birdsong."

In these examples the meaning is interchangeable with "around". You could say they are synonyms.

"All around me were enemies, and the battlefield was empty of allies."

"All about me were trees, and the pleasant sound of birdsong."

You can also use about in this way to form a question:

"Are there any shops about that sell umbrellas?" - meaning - "Are there any shops around (nearby) that sell umbrellas?"

This usage of about is more common in British English than US English. It often found in older literature, and is not common in spoken English in the US today.

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  • It is not "antiquated" among people who can speak English properly - though it may not be included in the dumbed-down vocabulary, acceptable in much of education today. It is OED adverbial sense 2c. – WS2 Sep 20 '19 at 17:00
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It is OED adverbial sense 2, of "about". Look particularly at sense 2c.

2a. All over or around; in various directions; in a circuitous course; to and fro; (also referring to things scattered over a surface) up and down, here and there. OE Ælfric Lives of Saints (Julius) (1881) I.

346 Crist ferde ða abutan geond þa Iudeiscan byrig bodigende godspel.

lOE Anglo-Saxon Chron. (Laud) anno 1001 & þanon wendon in Wihtland & þær him ferdon onbuton swa swa hi sylf woldon, & him nan þing ne wiðstod.

a1225 (▸?OE) MS Lamb. in R. Morris Old Eng. Homilies (1868) 1st Ser. 43 (MED) On ald mon þet iiii deoflen ledden abuten.

c1275 (▸?a1200) Laȝamon Brut (Calig.) (1978) l. 8675 Cnihtes eoden up-ward, cnihtes eoden dun-ward. cnihtes eoden abuten, & ȝeorne biheolden.

?a1300 Iacob & Iosep (Bodl.) (1916) l. 453 (MED) Iacob of þis corn aboute sende anon To frendes þat for hunger maden muche mon.

c1300 Life & Martyrdom Thomas Becket (Harl. 2277) (1845) l. 76 (MED) Heo thider com, And ȝeode aboute as a best.

a1375 William of Palerne (1867) 1022 (MED) Sche goþ aboute into þe gardyn for to gader floures.

c1400 (▸?c1390) Sir Gawain & Green Knight (1940) 600 (MED) Þe brydel barred aboute, with bryȝt golde bounden.

?a1425 (▸c1380) G. Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. i. pr. iii. 72 That I..be fordryven with tempestes blowynge aboute.

1445 tr. Claudian's De Consulatu Stilichonis in Anglia (1905) 28 271 (MED) Her heerys blake arn dressid aboute with precious shynyng golde.

?a1475 Ludus Coventriae (1922) 275 What arn þi dysciplys þat folwyn þe A-boute?

a1500 (▸a1460) Towneley Plays (1897–1973) 33 (MED) Full sharp ar thise showers that renys aboute.

1597 A. Hartwell tr. D. Lopes Rep. Kingdome of Congo ii. i. 109
Which way is very large and competent, though it go somewhat about incompasse.

1611 Bible (King James) Deut. xxxii. 10 Hee ledde him about, he instructed him. 1676 A. Marvell Mr. Smirke sig. F The little Emissaryes..hawk about from London to Westminster.

1751 Earl of Chatham Lett. to Nephew (1804) ii. 5 I have been moving about from place to place.

a1797 E. Burke Thoughts on Scarcity (1800) 1 Idle tales spread about by the industry of faction.

1855 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. III. 373 He had been willing to be the right hand of Dundee: but he would not be ordered about by Cannon.

1891 J. C. Atkinson Forty Years Moorland Parish 324 Birds hopping slowly and desultorily about.

1913 Sat. Evening Post (Philadelphia) 22 Feb. 6/1 Managers understand all about the twaddle that is bandied about.

1943 D. Welch Maiden Voy. xvi. 132 The soup..was delicious; pieces of pimento swam about in it like goldfish.

1995 D. McLean Bunker Man 69 With every step a barrel of beer slushed about in Rob's belly.

b. With verbs denoting activity, with the sense of movement weakened or absent: at large, freely; in an aimless, idle, or

frivolous manner; without any definite purpose. For the more established phrasal verbs with this sense, as to fool about, to mess about, to muck about, etc.: see the verbs. Earliest in to play about at play v. Phrasal verbs 1.

1638 A. Cowley Loves Riddle i. sig. B2 May none of your young lambes become a prey To the rude Wolfe, but play about securely.

1835 A. W. Fonblanque Eng. under Seven Admin. (1837) III. 213 That lean, hobbling old fellow,..pottering about in an incapacity for any thing but to fall to and enjoy other men's meat.

1851 T. Parker in J. Weiss Life & Corr. T. Parker (1863) II. 105
All my bettying about in literature and philosophy.

1923 R. Seton Memories Many Years 113 There I met the Uruguayan idling about.

1942 N. Balchin Darkness falls from Air vii. 120 Come on—I'm damned if I'm going to be written off by a nosecap through just goofing about.

1949 N. Coward Diary 28 June (2000) 130 Gertie frigging about as usual.

1965 B. Friel Philadelphia, here I Come! 19 Get out of my road, will you, and quit eejiting about!

1988 P. White Let. 5 June (1994) xvi. 617 I hate farting about in anybody's house at night.

1992 I. Rankin Good Hanging 225 Chief Inspector Lauderdale just laughed, thinking Rebus was clowning about as per usual.

c. On the move, afoot, astir; in evidence; prevalent. out and about: see out adv., prep., and int. Phrases 1. up and about: see up

adv.2 7d.

1745 D. Giddings Jrnl. in Essex Inst. Hist. Coll. (1912) XLVIII. 299 9 [May]. A little better this morning... 10. I was still out of case but keept about.

1815 M. Birkbeck Notes Journey through France 62 The wife of one of the labourers was about, and seemed perfectly hearty.

1819 W. Scott Bride of Lammermoor II. xvi. 237 Ye see I was trumpeter at the castle, and had allowance for blawing at break of day, and at dinner-time, and other whiles when there was company about.

1881 H. James Portrait of Lady I. xv. 182 Naturally there's not much going on there when there's such a lot of illness about.

1933 Punch 31 May 597 There doesn't seem to be anyone about in this cock-eyed town.

1960 Times 24 Mar. 14/6 Later that morning I found a mosque with the door standing open, and no one about.

1996 D. Brimson & E. Brimson Everywhere we Go xi. 154 We left the game early and went to the back of the away end to find the gates open and nobody about.

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