I haven’t had a question from the Peanut Gallery in a while, so I was happy to get this one. Ted in Houston asks:
Is the following sentence properly written if used in a prospect brochure write-up?
“We assembled a block of oil and gas leases comprising about 4,200 acres.”
In that sentence, is the word “approximately” preferable to the word “about”?
First, Ted, I want to commend you on the correct use of the word “comprising,” which means including or made up of.
As for the word “approximately,” yes, you can certainly use it here, as its meaning is correct.
Some of my editors-in-chief at the magazine considered “approximately” to be a rather long word that ate up a lot of real estate on the page, especially if there were several of them, and they preferred to use shorter words like “about,” but that was mainly to save space and perhaps not sound so hoity-toity. But if you want to sound hoity-toity and have lots of room to expound, then by all means use “approximately” because it only has one meaning: “close to, but not exactly.”
There are lots of words – and even some symbols – you can use to express “approximately,” but these can have other meanings, as well:
About – roving about (to and fro), a book about fracturing (on the topic of), about to eat lunch (ready)
Around – around the house (inside), ring around the collar (in a circle), for miles around (in all directions)
Nearly – close to, almost, generally used to mean slightly less than, rather than slightly more than
Roughly – opposite of gently
Tilde (~) – generally used in front of a number.
+/- or ± – This should be used after a number to give a range, e.g., 100 ± 2 ml
For variety’s sake, you can mix these up in your document. Most folks consider “approximately” to be a little bit closer than “nearly,” which is considered a little bit closer than “about,” which is closer than “around,” which is closer than “roughly.”
Here are the Rules of Thumb, according to Phil Sefton of the AMA Manual of Style blog:
● Referring to an inexact value in casual conversation? Around, about, and approximately are all acceptable, but approximately can sound a bit pretentious.
● Referring to an inexact value in nontechnical writing? About is perhaps the best choice, around being too informal and approximately being a tad too formal.
● Referring to an inexact value in medical or other technical writing? Although about may very occasionally be used if one carefully assesses the context, approximately is nearly always the best choice.
Hilarious Typo of the Day:
gas turban generator
I wasn’t sure if they meant a gas-powered turban generator or a machine that generates
But I was sure they meant gas turbine generator!
Famous Quote of the Day:
“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”
- Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1888-1955