Meaning of MEAN in English

I. mean 1 S1 W1 /miːn/ BrE AmE verb [transitive] ( past tense and past participle meant /ment/)

[ Word Family: adjective : ↑ meaningful , ↑ meaningless ; verb : ↑ mean ; noun : ↑ meaning ; adverb : ↑ meaningfully ]

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: mænan ]

1 . HAVE A PARTICULAR MEANING [not in progressive] to have or represent a particular meaning:

What does ‘patronizing’ mean?

The red light means ‘Stop’.

The report fails to define what is meant by the term ‘key issues’.

mean (that)

This light means you’re running low on fuel.


In written English, people often prefer to say that something indicates something is the case, rather than using mean :

The light indicates that fuel supplies are low.

2 . INTEND TO SAY SOMETHING [not in progressive] to intend a particular meaning when you say something

mean (that)

I meant we’d have to leave early – that’s all.

It’s pretty obvious what she means.

(do) you mean spoken (=used to check you have understood what someone intended to say)

Do you mean you’ve changed or Chris has changed?

do/if you know/see what I mean? spoken (=used to check that someone understands you)

I want to buy her something really special, if you know what I mean.

We’re still married but living apart in the same house, if you see what I mean.

Oh yeah! I see what you mean (=I understand what you are trying to say) .

What I mean is, I don’t feel alone anymore (=used to explain more about what you have said) .

‘I didn’t really like him.’ 'I know what you mean, I didn’t get on with him either (=used to say you understand and have had the same experience) .

‘In three hours’ time, I’ll be a free man.‘ ’How do you mean (=used to ask someone to explain what they have just said) ?'

3 . INTEND TO DO SOMETHING to intend to do something or intend that someone else should do something

mean to do something

I’ve been meaning to ask you if you want to come for a meal next week.

I didn’t mean to upset you.

mean somebody/something to do something

I didn’t mean this to happen at all.

I never meant you to find out.

mean for somebody to do something especially American English :

I didn’t mean for her to get hurt.

I’m sure she didn’t mean it (=she did not intend to upset or hurt someone) .

mean no harm/offence/disrespect (=not intend to harm, offend etc someone)

I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm.

He may sound a bit rude at times, but he means well (=intends to be helpful or kind, even if it does not seem like that) .

I wasn’t criticizing you, I really meant it for the best (=wanted to be helpful, although my actions had the wrong effect) .

4 . RESULT IN SOMETHING [not in progressive] to have a particular result or involve something:

The merger will mean the closure of the company’s Sydney office.

Don’t let him see you. It will only mean trouble.

mean (that)

The high cost of housing means that many young people can’t afford to buy a house.

mean doing something

My new job will mean travelling all over the world.

Dieting also means being careful about which foods you buy.

5 . BE FAMILIAR [not in progressive] if a name, word etc means something to you, you are familiar with it or you understand it:

He said his name was ‘Randall’ but it meant nothing to me (=I was not familiar with it) .

Does the name Bryce mean anything to you?

You need to use analogies which will mean something to the reader.

6 . SAY SOMETHING SERIOUSLY [not in progressive] to be serious about what you are saying or writing:

With children, if you say ‘no’, you have to mean it.

I meant what I said earlier.

You don’t really mean that, do you?

7 . HOW IMPORTANT SOMEBODY/SOMETHING IS [not in progressive] used for saying how important someone or something is to you

mean something to somebody

I know how much your work means to you.

The medal meant a lot to him.

mean the world to somebody/mean everything to somebody (=be very important to someone)

He meant the world to her.

Time meant nothing (=it was not important) to me while I was travelling.

Of course the relationship meant something to me.

8 . SHOW SOMETHING IS TRUE/WILL HAPPEN [not in progressive] to be a sign that something is true or will happen

mean (that)

Finding a lump does not necessarily mean you have cancer.

Clear skies mean that it will be a cold night.

Just because he’s been in prison, it doesn’t mean that he’s violent.

• • •


9 . what do you mean ...?

a) used when you do not understand what someone is trying to say:

‘You’ll be careful won’t you?’ ‘What do you mean?’

b) used when you are very surprised or annoyed by what someone has just said:

What do you mean, you’ve cancelled the trip?

What do you mean by that?

c) used when you are very annoyed by what someone has just done:

What do you mean by calling me at this time of night?

10 . SAY WHICH PERSON/THING used to say that a particular person or thing is the one that you are talking about, pointing to etc:

‘Hey you!’ ‘Do you mean me?’

I meant the pink dress, not the red one.

11 . I mean

a) used when explaining or giving an example of something, or when pausing to think about what you are going to say next:

You’re more of an expert than me. I mean, you’ve got all that experience.

It’s just not right. I mean, it’s unfair isn’t it?

b) used to quickly correct something you have just said:

She plays the violin, I mean the viola, really well.

12 . see what I mean? used when something that happens proves what you said before:

See what I mean? Every time she calls me up she wants me to do something for her.

13 . that’s what I mean used when someone is saying the same thing that you were trying to say earlier:

‘We might not have enough money.’ ‘That’s what I mean, so we’d better find out the price first.’

14 . I mean to say used when adding a reason or explanation for something you have just said, especially something you feel strongly about:

Of course she wants to see the children, I mean to say, it’s only natural isn’t it?

15 . mean business to be determined to do something:

This decision shows the public that we mean business.

16 . be meant to do something

a) if you are meant to do something, you should do it, especially because someone has told you to or because you are responsible for it:

Come on, Ellen, you’re meant to be helping me.

I thought the police were meant to protect people.

b) to be intended to do something:

The diagram is meant to show the different stages of the process.

17 . be meant to be good/excellent/bad etc used to say that you have heard or read that something is good, bad etc:

The play is meant to be really good.

18 . be meant for somebody/something to be intended for a particular person or purpose:

a book meant for children

19 . be meant for somebody if two people are meant for each other, they are very suitable as partners for each other:

They were meant for each other.

She’s meant for him.

20 . somebody was never meant for something/to be something used to say that someone is not at all suitable for a particular job or activity:

I was never meant for the army.

21 . something was meant to be/happen used to say that you think a situation was certain to happen and that no one could have prevented it:

Dan left me after a month so I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

22 . know/understand what it means to be something to have experienced a particular situation, so that you know what it is like:

I know what it means to be alone in a foreign country.

II. mean 2 BrE AmE adjective ( comparative meaner , superlative meanest )

[ Sense 1-5, 7: Language: Old English ; Origin: gemæne ]

[ Sense 6: Date: 1300-1400 ; Language: Old French ; Origin: meien , from Latin medianus ; ⇨ ↑ median 2 ]

1 . CRUEL cruel or not kind:

That was a mean thing to do.

I felt a bit mean asking him to help.

It’s a mean trick to play on someone.

It was mean of him not to invite her.

mean to

Don’t be so mean to her!

2 . NOT GENEROUS British English not wanting to spend money, or not wanting to use much of something SYN stingy , cheap American English :

He’s too mean to buy a present for his wife.

mean with

He’s always been mean with his money.

It was supposed to be garlic bread, but they’d been a bit mean with the garlic.

3 . no mean feat/achievement/task etc something that is very difficult to do, so that someone who does it deserves to be admired:

They sold 1 million cards in the first year of business – no mean feat, given the problems many businesses are facing.

4 . be no mean performer/player etc to be very good at doing something:

Kinnock is no mean performer on the rugby field.

5 . a mean something informal used to say that something is very good or that someone is very good at doing something:

He plays a mean game of poker.

They serve a mean Sunday brunch at the restaurant on Fourth Street.

6 . AVERAGE [only before noun] technical average:

The study involved 60 patients with a mean age of 58.2 years.

The mean annual rainfall was 852 mm.

7 . POOR [only before noun] literary poor or looking poor:

She walked briskly through the mean and dirty streets.

—meanly adverb

—meanness noun [uncountable]

• • •


▪ unkind treating people in a way that makes them unhappy or upset. Unkind sounds rather formal. In everyday English, people usually say mean or nasty :

Children can be very unkind to each other.


a rather unkind remark

▪ mean especially spoken unkind:

Don’t be mean to your sister!


It was a mean thing to do.

▪ nasty deliberately unkind, and seeming to enjoy making people unhappy:

He said some really nasty things before he left.


a nasty man

▪ hurtful unkind – used about remarks and actions:

Joe couldn’t forget the hurtful things she had said.


Couples sometimes do hurtful things to each other.

▪ spiteful deliberately unkind to someone because you are jealous of them or angry with them:

The other women were spiteful to her, and gave her the hardest work to do.


She watched them with spiteful glee (=pleasure) .

▪ malicious deliberately behaving in a way that is likely to upset, hurt, or cause problems for someone:

Someone had been spreading malicious rumours about him.


There was a malicious smile on her face.


an act of malicious vandalism


The accusations are malicious.

▪ unsympathetic not seeming to care about someone’s problems, and not trying to help them or make them feel better:

Her parents were very unsympathetic, and told her that she deserved to fail her exam.


an unsympathetic boss

▪ hard-hearted very unsympathetic and not caring at all about other people’s feelings:

Was he hard-hearted enough to leave his son in jail overnight?


a hard-hearted businessman

III. mean 3 BrE AmE noun

[ Date: 1300-1400 ; Language: Old French ; Origin: meien , from meien 'in the middle' ; ⇨ ↑ mean 2 ]

1 . the mean technical the average amount, figure, or value:

The mean of 7, 9 and 14 is 10.

2 . the/a mean between something and something a method of doing something which is between two very different methods, and better than either of them:

It’s a case of finding the mean between firmness and compassion.

⇨ ↑ means

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.