MEAN – Verb
MeanGrammar > Verbs > Mean
We use mean to explain or ask what a word or phrase refers to. We form questions with mean with the auxiliary verb do:
What does ‘strike’ mean?
Not: What means ‘strike’?
We don’t normally use mean in the continuous form when we are talking about expressing ideas:
What does that sign mean?
Not: What is that sign meaning?
Talking about intentions
We use mean to clarify something that we have said or to explain what we intended to say:
You have to take the road by the church.B:
Here’s what I mean, Lynn: there are two roads ahead. Take the right-hand road.
We use mean followed by a to-infinitive to express intentions:
Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.
I meant to call you before I left. I forgot.
We often use keep meaning to for longer-term intentions:
I’ve got to go to the dentist. I keep meaning to make an appointment.
Talking about significance
We use mean to say that something is important or significant:
The bracelet meant a lot to her. It had belonged to her grandmother.
Does this name mean anything to you?
Mean: result in
We can use mean + noun to talk about one thing resulting in another:
Higher fuel prices will mean higher airfares. (will result in or involve)
Talking about necessity or obligation
We use mean + -ing form to talk about something necessary or the result of something:
I’ll have to catch the 7 am train to Nottingham, which means getting up at 5 am. (I need to get up at 5 am.)
We also use the passive be meant to to express obligation. It has a similar meaning to ‘be supposed to’:
Why are you watching TV? You’re meant to be working.
We can use mean by to ask what somebody is specifically thinking of when they use a word or phrase:
We don’t want to discourage her from studying.B:
It depends what you mean by ‘discourage’.A:
Well, I mean make her think we can’t afford to pay for her.
Even though it ends in an ‘s’, means is a singular noun. We use a singular verb with it. We use it to talk about a method of doing something:
The most economical means of travelling to Aberdeen is by plane. (the most economical method or way)
Not: … most economical mean … or … most economical means are …
I meanSpoken English:
We use I mean very commonly in speaking as a discourse marker. We use it when we want to add to what we have just said, to make a point clearer or to correct what we have just said:
The law is not fair. I mean, it’s just not right that he didn’t go to prison. (adding)
It cost over £200. I mean, that’s more than most of us can afford. (making something clearer)
We need to ask Helen, I mean Harriet. (correcting)
We often use I mean when hesitating, to make something negative less strong or to soften a disagreement:
What do you think of Ben?B:
Well, I mean, he’s not very confident and not always sure what he’s supposed to be doing.
I think Peter probably has a strong view about that. It’s interesting … I mean I … what I said earlier and I mean Peter might disagree with me.
When we are not sure what to say, we sometimes use I mean. We often pause before or after it:
She’s not coming back, er I mean, erm … she and I have broken up.
We don’t use I mean to introduce opinions. It is not the same as I think:
I think we should stay at the Lakeside Inn.
Not: I mean we should stay at the Lakeside Inn.
You know what I meanSpoken English:
We often use the phrase you know what I mean (or if you know what I mean or do you know what I mean?) in speaking, to check that our listener understands what we are saying or to show that we assume the listener has the same opinion about something:
I just can’t go to Norah’s house.B:
I just don’t like all the cats. You know what I mean? They’re everywhere even in the beds.B:
Yeah, I have to say I’m not a fan of cats either. (A is checking that B understands that she doesn’t like all the cats in Norah’s house and she assumes that B is going to understand)
Ken isn’t very helpful, if you know what I mean.
We’ve got white on the walls in the back room now, but I think he feels as though, pink is not the right colour for the front room, do you know what I mean?
We use auxiliary do in questions with mean:
What does ‘rosehip’ mean?
Not: What means ‘rosehip’?
We don’t use I mean to introduce opinions:
I think people shouldn’t start university until they are 20.
Not: I mean people shouldn’t …
Means is a singular noun. We use a singular verb with it:
A very relaxing means of transport is the train.
Not: … very relaxing mean of transport are the train.