Mean Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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When encountering a new word in a book or a conversation, it can be confusing if you don’t know all the possible definitions. 

One of those words is the word mean. It’s a simple word at first glance, but it has multiple definitions that hardly relate to each other, making it somewhat confusing.

So, today’s word of the day is the word mean. By the end of this guide, you’ll have a complete understanding of the word mean, its many definitions, where it came from, and how to use it. Let’s get started. 

What Is the Definition of the Word Mean?

As we said before, there isn’t just one definition of mean (miːn). There are many, and each definition is quite different from the others. Here is a list of mean’s definitions

As a Verb

  • To express or convey a feeling or thought 
  • To result in
  • To intend

As an Adjective

  • Rude, unkind, improper
  • Highly skilled, very good at

As a Noun

  • The mathematical average of a set of values or a set of numbers

There are several other grammatical forms of the word mean as well: The word meaning can be used in the present or future tense, and the word meant is the past participle. Meaner and meanest are comparative adjectives. Meanly can be an adverb describing how an action is done. 

As you can see, there are several forms and definitions of this word. Based on the context you see the word in, you can pick up clues about which definition is being used. 

Common Collocations and Idioms

Mean is an incredibly common word in the English language. Because of this, there are many collocations and idioms associated with the word. A collocation is a common pairing of words that happens more often than just by chance. 

Here are a few of the collocations where the word mean is used: 

  • Mean business
  • Mean value
  • Mean, median, and mode
  • What I mean is
  • You’re mean
  • You don’t mean
  • If you know what I mean
  • I mean
  • Mean well

Where Did the Word Mean Come From?

To better understand the word mean and its definition, let’s take a look at its etymology. By discovering where the word came from, we can have a better understanding of how it is used and what it means. 

There are actually three different origins for this word, a different origin for each different definition. Here are the different sources of the word mean. 

Mean in Math

The mean noun refers to the average of a set of values or numbers. You calculate it by finding the aggregate total of a set of numbers and then dividing that number by the number of values in the set. 

The arithmetic mean gets its roots in the Latin language. The Latin medianus, which means “middle” is the word’s oldest known ancestor. From Latin, the word found its way into Middle English in the form median, alongside the Old French meien.

We still have the word “median” in English and mathematics today. In math, the median is the middle number in a numerical sequence of numbers. The mean, or the average, adds up all of the numbers in the set and then divides by the number of values in the set to get the average. 

From the Middle English median, the word evolved even more, giving us the mathematical word in English: mean. 

To Intend

The other definitions found their way into modern English through a different route: western Germanic languages.

At around the same time, we see the word pop up in different forms in the Germanic languages. For starters, we see the Old English mænan or mǣnan. In Dutch, we see meenen. And then there is the German meinen. All these words share similar definitions. 

Rude or Unkind

This form of the word mean comes from Old English. The Old English gemǣne or gemein was shortened to the Middle English mene and the Middle English menen

But even the Old English form had evolved from the Latin communis, meaning “common to multiple people.” Eventually, the definition changed to mean “inferior” and then changed again to mean “small-minded.” After this, it came to mean the definition we have today: unkind. 

What Are Some Examples of Mean Used in a Sentence?

To help bring more clarity to how the word mean is used, here are some example sentences that use the word mean in its different definitions:

Can you tell me what the formula for harmonic mean is again? I forgot it.

The mean annual rainfall in this area is growing lower by the year. 

As an investment banker, I’m very familiar with the geometric mean and expected value. 

He is just mean, and he doesn’t have any good intentions in his body.

He has an incredibly mean motive. He just wants to see you suffer.

The judge is going to destine this incredibly mean-spirited crook to several years in prison. 

That dude is one mean bass player! His riffs were absolutely incredible. 

He was the meanest ping pong player in the tournament. He beat everyone. 

It was a pretty mean feat to climb Everest blind, but he did it. 

What I mean to say is that I am doing really well here and I think I deserve a raise. 

That’s not what I mean. You’re twisting my words. 

I’m not saying that you’re ungenerous, I just mean that we could use a little more help. 

What Are Some Synonyms for the Word Mean?

Here are some synonyms for the word mean that you might find in a thesaurus. 

  • Signification
  • Determine
  • Indicate
  • Aim
  • Expect
  • Average
  • Middle
  • Evil
  • Malicious
  • Nasty 
  • Ugly

The Word Mean

You don’t see the word mean in many vocabulary word lists, but now you have a great understanding of this word and its various definitions so you don’t have to be confused about it ever again. 

Now, go and use it confidently in your conversations and writing. If you ever need a refresher on this word, just come back to this article for the information you need. 


Applications of the Geometric Mean | University of Toronto 

MEAN | Cambridge English Dictionary 

MEAN English Definition and Meaning | Lexico