I've been listening this expression from movies and it seems that native speakers used to say "What's that mean" when they want to ask about the meaning of something.

Is this expression right for informal speaking or is it just my misunderstanding?

  • "What's that?" is an abbreviation of "What is that?" but "What is that mean?" doesn't make much sense, although it is understood to be "What does that mean?" and people do say that. – Weather Vane May 8 '20 at 10:11
  • Perhaps when you say "What does that mean" quickly it sounds "What's that mean" to my ears. – Maf May 8 '20 at 10:15
  • Perhaps, it would require very exact pronunciation to separate the trailing t from the next d. – Weather Vane May 8 '20 at 10:18
  • Exactly. It's a difficult pronunciation for me. – Maf May 8 '20 at 10:38
  • It's difficult for native speakers too, which is why you hear that. I might typically say "Wha' does..." – Weather Vane May 8 '20 at 10:39

'What's that mean?' translates to 'What does that mean?'—not 'What does it mean?'. I'd say that the phrase 'What's that mean?' is a dialect more than anything else, and even in informal speech, 'What does that mean?' is more common and more often understood.

  • Perhaps when you say "What does that mean" quickly it sounds "What's that mean" to my ears. Thanks for the clarification! – Maf May 8 '20 at 10:16

I had the same pronunciation question and I found the answer to your question in this Youtube video that explains exactly why it sounds like that.

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    I watched the video, very well, I liked how she explained the different spelling of do and does when they act as auxiliary. Now @Joe's answer makes more sense (i.e. 'What does that mean?' is more common and more often understood.) – Maf Apr 8 at 5:46
  • What happens if the YouTube video gets deleted? This answer becomes totally worthless. We wouldn't even know the title of the video nor the name of the person (teacher ?) explaining. So while this answer may have a useful link–I haven't seen the video–I'm downvoting because it doesn't explain anything and lacks fundamental information. I'm happy to reverse the downvote once the post has been fixed. – Mari-Lou A Apr 8 at 7:12

One of the meanings of 's is "does" - this is often forgotten. We say that 's means "is" or "has" and forget that it can mean "does".

Some answers and comments wrongly regard this usage as incorrect or as dialect.

It is an informal usage but it is neither incorrect not dialectal. Lexico records it here https://www.lexico.com/definition/'s

  • As a matter of fact this is really often forgotten and of course my doubt raised precisely because of this. Thanks a lot! – Maf Apr 8 at 6:40

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