I always come across with this form "What does it mean+ to-infinitive" . But I don't understand why we use to-infinitive instead of gerund after mean. As far as I know, mean + to-infinitive means "intend".

  1. What does it mean to be human?

  2. What does it mean being human?

  3. What does it mean to be an American?

  4. What does it mean being an American?

1 Answer 1


In questions 1 to 4, "to be/being human/an American" is the subject of the sentence and does not form a pattern with the verb "mean". Proof of this is that in the affirmative form both the infinitive and the gerund will appear at the beginning of the sentence, not after "mean":

  • To be human/an American means ...

  • Being human/an American means ...

"mean + to infinitive" means "intend to", and will therefore not be used as an answer to the questions proposed. Instead, "mean + V-ing" can provide a suitable answer to all four questions:

  • To be human / Being human means caring about others. (Here, "mean" is synonymous with "entail", or "involve", or "imply".)

  • To be an American / Being an American means having been born in the US. (Here, "mean" is more like "be equivalent to" or "have as meaning".)

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