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Last updated at 11:14 BST, Tuesday, 11 August 2009

In terms of

In terms of weather it was terrible

'In terms of weather it was terrible'

A question from Jeoung Kim in South Korea:
I’m wondering about the difference between ‘in terms of’ and ‘about’. I often hear people start a sentence with ‘In terms of...’

Trudi Faulkner-Petrova answers

Click below to hear the answer:

Hi there. This is an interesting question Jeoung Kim. There are differences between ‘in terms of’ and ‘about’ and I think that a few examples help to show them.

I’ll start by saying that originally the expression ‘in terms of’ explained precise relationships between things, like this:

We prefer to measure our company’s success in terms of satisfied customers rather than yearly profit.
In terms of quality, individual players, we have a great team but the problem is they don’t play football together well at all.

It means ‘regarding’ in these sentences:

I can help you in terms of your academic problems but not your financial ones.
In terms of your proposal, I think you are asking for way too much money.

If you hear people starting their sentence with ‘in terms of’, you know that they are going to talk about one aspect of something. If you ask a friend how their holiday was, they might say,

‘In terms of food it was great but in terms of weather it was terrible’.

They are making it clear that they are talking about separate aspects of the holiday, not the holiday as a whole. You couldn’t use ‘about’ in the example I’ve just given you.

Actually, the word ‘about’ has a very wide use in English. It means concerning a particular topic in general, not just one aspect of it. So you could say:

It’s a website about English.
It’s a book about grammar.
What was the lecture about?

But in these examples you couldn’t replace ‘about’ with ‘in terms of’ because you are talking in general and not trying to establish a relationship between things or a certain aspect of it.

So let’s put both ‘in terms of’ and ‘about’ in the same sentence and see if the difference between them is clear now:

It’s a really interesting novel about kids’ lives in Hollywood but in terms of vocabulary, it’s really challenging.

Finally, you could say that this BBC website is all ‘about’ learning English. And ‘in terms of’ grammar help, it is extremely useful to learners like yourself!

About Trudi Faulkner-Petrova

Trudi Faulkner-Petrova

Trudi Faulkner-Petrova has a BA (Hons) in English, Bsc. in Psychology and Cert.TESOL. She has been teaching EFL, EAP and Business English in international schools, businesses and universities in Beijing over the last 10 years. Currently, she is a freelance tutor for ESOL, English Literature, SAT/TOEFL preparation and also works for the British Council as an IELTS and BULATS examiner. She is in the final year of studies for an Msc. in Psychology.


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