Asking questions with the verb “mean”

Asking questions with “mean” can be confusing. Let’s dive into the explanations.

Question form with ‘mean’

This is how you construct a question with the verb mean:

What does ‘auxiliary’ mean?

Don’t use: What means ‘auxiliary’?

Preposition ‘by’ in questions with ‘mean’

If you form a sentence like “What do you mean by ‘auxiliary’?” you are asking about the sense of the word (“Could you please explain the meaning of ‘auxiliary’ in this particular context? Does it refer to ‘grammar’ or ‘production’?”).

“What do you mean…?”

One more thing. If you form your question with “What do you mean (by)…” you might be expressing protest or annoyance. For example:

  • What do you mean you aren’t using private cloud computing? (Forbes)
  • What do you mean by waking me up at this time of night? (Swan)

Here’s a text about the noun mean/means (this above is the verb).

Reference: Swan pp. 329-330