Yes, the title is correctly expressing my question, so which one of these :

  1. What do you mean with that?

  2. What do you mean by that?

Question : i've been wondering which one of them that sounds more natural, at least like a native speaker would use.

  • The choice of preposition depends on the phrase following it.
    – Jim
    Dec 1, 2013 at 0:51
  • Thanks for updating the question, unfortunately the choice of preposition now depends on what that refers to.
    – Jim
    Dec 1, 2013 at 0:59
  • Prepositions vary by dialect, but I think that by is Standard English in that usage. To my ear, with would be substandard. It's either what do you mean by that, or what do you mean to do with that? Dec 1, 2013 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


As a basic question, "What do you mean by that?" is grammatical and idiomatic and means "Please explain the meaning of (or possibly justify) your previous statement more fully".

On the other hand, "What do you mean with that?" as a question by itself is completely unidiomatic, and would never be said by a native speaker.

  • 1
    I strongly disagree. It can be an elided form of "What do you mean to do with that?" As when your friend comes over holding a pick-axe.
    – Jim
    Dec 1, 2013 at 1:09
  • 1
    – Jim
    Dec 1, 2013 at 1:16
  • 1
    – Jim
    Dec 1, 2013 at 1:18
  • 3
    I agree with Matt. It may be okay in some dialects, but it's not grammatical in "standard" English. Some silly book doesn't prove anything. The author could have made a typo, or the characters are using some dialect or whatever.
    – Kaz
    Dec 1, 2013 at 1:59
  • 2
    If you want to prove something using books, try ngrams
    – Kaz
    Dec 1, 2013 at 2:09

"What do you mean with that" can be grammatical (in standard English) if it is a question about quoted speech:

What do you mean, "with that"? With what?


What do you mean with that?

is avoided by speakers. A Google n-gram comparison pf "do you mean with that" versus "do you mean by that" gives some evidence that "do you mean with that" is very rare. Furthermore, it doesn't mean anything different and can be replaced by "what do you mean by that".

It's rare enough that those who don't use it and haven't heard it will regard it as wrong or as some regional dialect, and if a non-native speaker uses it, it will be seen as a non-native mistake.

Note also that some of the matches for "do you mean with that" include sentences having forms such as "Which Mary are you going with? Do you mean, with that girl from across the street?" which is not what we're interested in. An "n-gram" is just a string of words.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .