For example you can say:

  • True love is about wanting happiness for the person you love.

  • True love means wanting happiness for the person you love.

Is there any difference between two sentences semantically?

3 Answers 3


I would say that means establishes an equivalency. It says that one thing is the same as the other:

To run means to move quickly.

It provides a kind of definition for something that doesn't allow for other interpretations.

But is about just says that something only includes something else. It can also be about other things:

The movie is about peace, love, and understanding.

It doesn't preclude the possibility of something else that wasn't mentioned. (It would if is only about were used.)

Both syntactically and semantically, these two example sentences would lose their meaning if they had the one word replaced by the other.

If we rephrased it, the first sentence could accommodate the other word:

Running is about moving quickly.

That seems to say the same thing, but it does so in a narrow sense. Because it could also be about getting somewhere quickly or getting away from somewhere quickly.

Conversely, however, it would be unusual to hear:

To run means to get somewhere quickly.

This statement isn't always true. Sometimes it's not about getting somewhere quickly, it's only about the activity itself. So, without qualification, we use means as a universal statement—in the same way that dictionaries provides definitions for words.

Sometimes they can be used in a mostly equivalent way, but there will be at least a subtle difference—if not something (syntax or semantics) that actually precludes one from being a replacement for the other.


about is normally used to refer to a subject or topic.

That book is about dogs.

The book concerns itself with dogs.

When about is used to say what something is, to define it, the preposition refers to the scope or ambit of the actions that are essential to or emblematic of that thing.

Helping around the house is about taking the garbage out, cleaning up the kitchen after you've made yourself a snack, keeping things tidy, bringing in the mail, and things of that nature.

The verb means can be used in the same manner. It too can refer to the actions which are essential to or emblematic of the thing:

Helping around the house means taking the garbage out, cleaning up the kitchen after you've made yourself a snack, keeping things tidy, bringing in the mail, and things of that nature.

So in this context the two sentences are synonymous.


While Jason Bassford's answer does not include any incorrect information, I think it fails to talk about this specific use of these two expressions, which is to declare some fundamental aspect, e.g.

A good answer on ELL means/is about addressing the specific question asked

While there are other uses of both "means" and "is about", in this particular case they are functionally equivalent. In both cases you declare some element that is of primary importance to the subject

Some examples:

For me, traveling means/is about seeing something new and unexpected

i.e. novelty is a fundamental reason why I like to travel.

Learning a new language sometimes means/is about learning to think in a different way.

i.e. in order to learn a new language, sometimes you are required to think in a different way.

Freedom of speech is not about/does not mean freedom from the consequences of what you choose to say.

i.e. it is important to understand that the right to speak freely does not mean you can say anything you want without consequence.

There are other contexts in which these two expressions can mean different things, but in this context they are the same.

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