See more synonyms for meaning on
  1. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import: the three meanings of a word.
  2. the end, purpose, or significance of something: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of this intrusion?
  3. Linguistics.
    1. the nonlinguistic cultural correlate, reference, or denotation of a linguistic form; expression.
    2. linguistic content (opposed to expression).
  1. intentioned (usually used in combination): She's a well-meaning person.
  2. full of significance; expressive: a meaning look.

Origin of meaning

1250–1300; Middle English (noun); see mean1, -ing1, -ing2
Related formsmean·ing·ly, adverbmean·ing·ness, nounsub·mean·ing, nounun·der·mean·ing, noun

Synonyms for meaning

See more synonyms for on
1. tenor, gist, drift, trend. Meaning, purport, sense, significance denote that which is expressed or indicated by something. Meaning is the general word denoting that which is intended to be or actually is expressed or indicated: the meaning of a word or glance. Sense may be used to denote a particular meaning (among others) of a word or phrase: The word is frequently used in this sense. Sense may also be used loosely to refer to intelligible meaning: There's no sense in what he says. Significance refers particularly to a meaning that is implied rather than expressed: the significance of her glance; or to a meaning the importance of which may not be easy to perceive immediately: The real significance of his words was not grasped at the time. Purport is mainly limited to the meaning of a formal document, speech, important conversation, etc., and refers to the gist of something fairly complicated: the purport of your letter to the editor.


verb (used with object), meant, mean·ing.
  1. to have in mind as one's purpose or intention; intend: I meant to compliment you on your work.
  2. to intend for a particular purpose, destination, etc.: They were meant for each other.
  3. to intend to express or indicate: What do you mean by “liberal”?
  4. to have as its sense or signification; signify: The word “freedom” means many things to many people.
  5. to bring, cause, or produce as a result: This bonus means that we can take a trip to Florida.
  6. to have (certain intentions) toward a person: He didn't mean you any harm.
  7. to have the value of; assume the importance of: Money means everything to them. She means the world to him.
verb (used without object), meant, mean·ing.
  1. to be minded or disposed; have intentions: Beware, she means ill, despite her solicitous manner.
  1. mean well, to have good intentions; try to be kind or helpful: Her constant queries about your health must be tiresome, but I'm sure she means well.

Origin of mean

before 900; Middle English menen, Old English mǣnan; cognate with German meinen, Dutch meenen
Can be confusedmean mien

Synonym study

1. See intend. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for meaning

Contemporary Examples of meaning

Historical Examples of meaning

  • The young man stared at his mother until he had mastered her meaning.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • The people demanded of Antiphon the meaning of these visions.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • When I asked the meaning of this, they showed me a triangle.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • She was afraid that she now understood the meaning of the bill she had received.

  • Voices sounded in the hall, but he gave no heed to the meaning of all this.

British Dictionary definitions for meaning


  1. the sense or significance of a word, sentence, symbol, etc; import; semantic or lexical content
  2. the purpose underlying or intended by speech, action, etc
  3. the inner, symbolic, or true interpretation, value, or messagethe meaning of a dream
  4. valid content; efficacya law with little or no meaning
  5. philosophy
    1. the sense of an expression; its connotation
    2. the reference of an expression; its denotation. In recent philosophical writings meaning can be used in both the above sensesSee also sense (def. 12)
  1. expressive of some sense, intention, criticism, etca meaning look
See also well-meaning


verb means, meaning or meant (mainly tr)
  1. (may take a clause as object or an infinitive) to intend to convey or express
  2. (may take a clause as object or an infinitive) intendshe didn't mean to hurt it
  3. (may take a clause as object) to say or do in all seriousnessthe boss means what he says about strikes
  4. (often passive often foll by for) to destine or design (for a certain person or purpose)she was meant for greater things
  5. (may take a clause as object) to denote or connote; signify; representexamples help show exactly what a word means
  6. (may take a clause as object) to produce; causethe weather will mean long traffic delays
  7. (may take a clause as object) to foretell; portendthose dark clouds mean rain
  8. to have the importance ofmoney means nothing to him
  9. (intr) to have the intention of behaving or acting (esp in the phrases mean well or mean ill)
  10. mean business to be in earnest

Word Origin for mean

Old English mænan; compare Old Saxon mēnian to intend, Dutch meenen


In standard English, mean should not be followed by for when expressing intention: I didn't mean this to happen (not I didn't mean for this to happen)


  1. mainly British miserly, ungenerous, or petty
  2. humble, obscure, or lowlyhe rose from mean origins to high office
  3. despicable, ignoble, or callousa mean action
  4. poor or shabbymean clothing; a mean abode
  5. informal, mainly US and Canadian bad-tempered; vicious
  6. informal ashamedhe felt mean about not letting the children go to the zoo
  7. informal, mainly US unwell; in low spirits
  8. slang excellent; skilfulhe plays a mean trombone
  9. no mean
    1. of high qualityno mean performer
    2. difficultno mean feat
Derived Formsmeanly, adverbmeanness, noun

Word Origin for mean

C12: from Old English gemǣne common; related to Old High German gimeini, Latin communis common, at first with no pejorative sense


  1. the middle point, state, or course between limits or extremes
  2. moderation
  3. maths
    1. the second and third terms of a proportion, as b and c in a/b = c/d
    2. another name for average (def. 2) See also geometric mean
  4. statistics a statistic obtained by multiplying each possible value of a variable by its probability and then taking the sum or integral over the range of the variable
  1. intermediate or medium in size, quantity, etc
  2. occurring halfway between extremes or limits; average
See also means

Word Origin for mean

C14: via Anglo-Norman from Old French moien, from Late Latin mediānus median
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for meaning

"sense, import, intent," c.1300, from mean (v.).



"intend, have in mind," Old English mænan "to mean, intend, signify; tell, say; complain, lament," from West Germanic *mainijan (cf. Old Frisian mena "to signify," Old Saxon menian "to intend, signify, make known," Dutch menen, German meinen "think, suppose, be of the opinion"), from PIE *meino- "opinion, intent" (cf. Old Church Slavonic meniti "to think, have an opinion," Old Irish mian "wish, desire," Welsh mwyn "enjoyment"), perhaps from root *men- "think" (see mind (n.)). Conversational question you know what I mean? attested by 1834.



"low-quality," c.1200, "shared by all," from imene, from Old English gemæne "common, public, general, universal, shared by all," from Proto-Germanic *ga-mainiz "possessed jointly" (cf. Old Frisian mene, Old Saxon gimeni, Middle Low German gemeine, Middle Dutch gemene, Dutch gemeen, German gemein, Gothic gamains "common"), from PIE *ko-moin-i- "held in common," a compound adjective formed from collective prefix *ko- "together" (Proto-Germanic *ga-) + *moi-n-, suffixed form of PIE root *mei- "to change, exchange" (see mutable). Cf. second element in common (adj.), a word with a sense evolution parallel to that of this word.

Of things, "inferior, second-rate," from late 14c. (a secondary sense in Old English was "false, wicked"). Notion of "so-so, mediocre" led to confusion with mean (n.). Meaning "inferior in rank or status" (of persons) emerged early 14c.; that of "ordinary" from late 14c.; that of "stingy, nasty" first recorded 1660s; weaker sense of "disobliging, pettily offensive" is from 1839, originally American English slang. Inverted sense of "remarkably good" (i.e. plays a mean saxophone) first recorded c.1900, perhaps from phrase no mean _______ "not inferior" (1590s, also, "not average," reflecting further confusion with mean (n.)).



"that which is halfway between extremes," early 14c., from Old French meien "middle, means, intermediary," noun use of adjective from Latin medianus "of or that is in the middle" (see mean (adj.2)). Oldest sense is musical; mathematical sense is from c.1500. Some senes reflect confusion with mean (adj.1). This is the mean in by no means (late 15c.).



"calculate an arithemtical mean," 1882, from mean (n.).



"occupying a middle or intermediate place," mid-14c., from Anglo-French meines (plural), Old French meien, variant of moiien "mid-, medium, common, middle-class" (12c., Modern French moyen), from Late Latin medianus "of the middle," from Latin medius "in the middle" (see medial (adj.)). Meaning "intermediate in time" is from mid-15c. Mathematical sense is from late 14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

meaning in Medicine


  1. Something having a position, quality, or condition midway between extremes; a medium.
  2. A number that typifies a set of numbers, such as a geometric mean or an arithmetic mean.
  3. The average value of a set of numbers.
  1. Occupying a middle or intermediate position between two extremes.
  2. Intermediate in size, extent, quality, time, or degree; medium.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

meaning in Science


  1. A number or quantity having a value that is intermediate between other numbers or quantities, especially an arithmetic mean or average. See more at arithmetic mean.
  2. Either the second or third term of a proportion of four terms. In the proportion 23 = 46, the means are 3 and 4. Compare extreme.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

meaning in Culture


An average in statistics. (See under “Physical Sciences and Mathematics.”)


In statistics, an average of a group of numbers or data points. With a group of numbers, the mean is obtained by adding them and dividing by the number of numbers in the group. Thus the mean of five, seven, and twelve is eight (twenty-four divided by three). (Compare median and mode.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with meaning


In addition to the idioms beginning with mean

  • mean business
  • mean to

, also see under

  • means
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.