Is it possible to say:

What do you mean "Internet"?


What do you mean: "Internet"?

instead of

What do you mean by "Internet"?

  • I would prefer a comma in place of the colon. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 3:29

2 Answers 2


What do you mean by "internet"?

That means that you want them to explain the term, or to give their personal definition of it in this context - a lot of words have multiple definitions that people use, especially technical or specialist words.

What do you mean "internet"?

That is an expression of shock or incredulity. You are surprised that they said "internet", or can't believe that they said it.


Speaking to someone, it may not matter if you use by or not. Any possible misunderstanding will be resolved in conversation.
The by probably will not be needed if you are writing to someone you know well.
However, if writing someone you do not often communicate with, the by should be used as a courtesy to avoid any misunderstanding.

What do you mean by "Internet"?

would be best. An extra effort to be clear is never wrong.

  • 1
    To me, 'What do you mean by X?' is asking the other person to clarify exactly how they define X in this particular context. 'What do you mean, X?' suggests an exclamation - 'Why ever are you mentioning X now?'
    – Kate Bunting
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 8:15
  • @Kate Bunting That is about how I see it. I would not use such an exclamation on someone I did not know.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 10:06

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