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On this site, the first two definitions of "neat" and "tidy" from Oxford Learner's Dictionary seem to mean the same thing: (for things and people) orderly and organized.

However, in Merriam Webster's Learner's dictionary, the word "clean" also appears in the first two definitions of "neat" and "tidy".

So, do "neat" and "tidy" also imply cleanliness in addition to order and organization?

Edit: This thread answered my question, but just for "tidy", saying that it doesn't necessarily mean "clean" in addition to orderly and organized. So, does it apply to the word "neat" as well?

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    It reminded me of my question. Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 16:29
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    Already asked on ELU. Neat and tidy places would usually be expected to be clean, but it's possible to imagine a situation where it doesn't apply. Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 16:32
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    Does this answer your question? Does either 'messy' or 'untidy' necessarily imply 'dirty'? Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 16:44
  • It does answer my question, but just for "tidy". So, the word "neat" as well doesn't necessarily imply cleanliness in addition to order and organization?
    – Alex Frt
    Commented Feb 4, 2022 at 18:47

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Far be it for me to argue with Merriam Webster, but whilst neat and tidy are interchangeable they don't absolutely guarantee clean. You can have a neat pile of trash, but it wouldn't be clean. However if someone or something is described as being neat and tidy it almost certainly means that they are clean as well unless there is evidence to the contrary.

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Some qualities often go together, even if the words mean different things.

For example an "expensive" wine will often be a "fine" wine. But "expensive doesn't mean "fine" and it is quite possible to find an expensive wine that is low quality, or a very good wine that is cheap. Nevertheless, if I tell you that "I have an expensive bottle of wine" it suggests that the wine is very good.

Similarly "neat" doesn't mean the same as "clean", but things that are neat are often also clean, and while it is possible for there to be dirty things that are neatly arranged, that would be unusual.

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What do you mean (or what do you think Merriam-Webster means) by cleanliness?

Typically, when people say to their kids, "clean your room," they do not mean scrub the walls, sanitize the surfaces and they may not even mean vacuum the floor. What they almost certainly mean is remove any visible mess: make the bed, put away the toys, put the dirty laundry in the hamper, etc.

If you say to your kids, "clean your plate," you either mean wash it or finish eating the food that's on it (in which case, it may still be very dirty).

If a shave is "clean," there are no untidy hairs, but this says nothing about any germs that were on the razor and have now been spread to the face.

This is something of a circular reference. Neat and tidy might mean clean because clean means neat and tidy.


The meanings of cleanliness are more diverse and complicated than it may seem. It will probably not answer your English language question, but Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger is definitely worth reading.

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