The word "mean" has many different meanings, depending on the situation. The most important thing for you as a student of English to know is that we use the word "mean" when we want the definition of a word. Look at these examples:

  • What does "awful" mean?
  • Do you know what this word means?
  • I don’t know what this means.
  • Do you understand what this sentence means?
  • What did she really mean when she said that she was disappointed?

Sometimes my students will ask the question like this:

  • What means this word? (This is not correct!)

When you want to know the definition or meaning for a particular word, ask the question like this:

  • What does "________" mean?
  • What does "endeavor" mean?
  • What does "raunchy" mean?

The teacher or whoever answers the questions then says this:

  • The word "endeavor" means to try hard to do something.
  • The word "raunchy" means that something is kind of dirty or a person’s behavior is vulgar.

The word "meaning" is a noun:

  • What’s the meaning of this word?
  • Do you know the meaning of the word "endeavor."
  • You can use a dictionary or a thesaurus to find the meaning.

books dictionaries

This video show you how to use "mean" when asking questions about a word:


There are other slightly different meanings for the word "mean":

  • What does this situation mean for our company? (What will be a possible result?)
  • A drop in profits means that the company will have to lay off more workers. (Fewer profits will result in layoffs.)
  • She means well. (It’s her intention to do something good, but she might not achieve that result.)

In this next set of examples, the word "mean" is used as an adjective. (What’s an adjective?)

  • She’s a very mean person. (She’s not nice.)
  • The children were being mean to the dog.
  • He’s a lean, mean fighting machine. (He’s in good condition.)
  • What is the mean for these numbers? (mean = average)

a mean cat He’s a mean cat.

Click here to learn more words.

This page was first published on June 27, 2014. It was updated on November 22, 2016.