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How to use the word MEAN in English

The word to mean is a tricky one in English because it can be used in a lot of different and unrelated ways. Mean is both a verb and an adjective and can cause English students like you a lot of confusion.

PRONUNCIATION

/ˈmiːn/

DEFINITIONS OF MEAN ( as a verb)

verb: mean; 3rd person present: means; past tense: meant; past participle: meant; gerund or present participle: meaning

1. Mean is used to signify something


What does this word mean in English?

Bom dia in Portuguese means good morning in English.

BC means (=stands for) British Columbia. 

2. You can use mean to express an idea or meaning

 I meant what I said.

I didn’t understand what she meant when she said that.

When she said the play was fine, she really meant that it was wonderful. 

You’re very confident, I mean that as a compliment.

Mean can also be used in a phrase to hope you’ve been understood. 

You close it like this. Do you see what I mean?

She’s not getting any younger, know what I mean?

I know what you mean, this homework is pretty difficult. 

What’s that supposed to mean? (You might use this if you are surprised that someone said something that you may have taken offence to.)

3. You can use mean to show how you want something to be used if it’s for a particular purpose

She never meant to offend you.

Those snacks were meant for lunches, you shouldn’t have eaten them now.

The letter was meant to get there before he left.

He meant that as a compliment.

We meant to invite you but we forgot.

4. Mean can also be used to indicate that something is going to happen.

Grey clouds mean rain is coming.

He didn’t pick up the phone, do you think that means he’s not coming. 

The strike at the airport means there will be delays.

5. Use mean when you want to express when something is important

You know how much that book meant to me.

He health means everything to him, he quit smoking years ago.

Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot.  

 

PHRASES WITH MEAN

1. I mean

“I mean” is used a lot in informal spoken English.

  • Used to emphasize a statement

He’s got to study more, I mean he has so much potential.

  • As a correction

He comes from Toronto, I mean, Vancouver.

  • When you are unsure what or how to say something

You have been very distant lately, I mean we barely see you.

2. Meant to be

When something is intended to be a certain way, often used as if it cannot be influenced or changed.

They are so in love, they were clearly meant to be together.

I was never meant to be a doctor. 

3. To know what it means

To understand what something is like

I know what it means to be poor and living paycheck to paycheck.

I know what it means to you, I won’t miss your party.

DEFINITIONS OF MEAN (as an adjective)

superlatives: meaner, meanest

1. Mean is used to describe a person who is not kind, is cruel or harsh.

I don’t like him, he’s really mean.

Stop being mean to your sister!

Why do you always have to be so mean?

2. In North America, mean is used to describe vicious or aggressive behaviour.

Stay back, that dog is mean.

I don’t trust him, he has a mean streak.

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