What is the difference between の意味は何 and はどういう意味? When asking for the definition of a word, I've been told to use the latter, but I don't know why the former is incorrect.

1 Answer 1


Use the latter if you want to speak and write "natural" Japanese. 「~~はどういう意味ですか。」 is how native speakers ask for a word's definition.

「~~の意味はなんですか。」, while grammatical, sounds SO "directly translated" from "What is the meaning of ~~?". It is not very natural, if not incorrect.

  • Why do native speakers ask this way? Why not ask literally for the meaning, versus "How to say the meaning", or whatever どういう意味 would translate to.
    – user3457
    Dec 20, 2013 at 22:51
  • 3
    The どういう is like "what kind of~", rather than "How to say", no?
    – user1016
    Dec 21, 2013 at 3:49
  • I recently heard a native Japanese teacher say "でも、意味は何?" in a class for children. Can some other native speakers confirm that this is really unnatural? I see the poster here seems to have his account suspended so cannot get confirmation from him.
    – Locksleyu
    Jul 6, 2020 at 16:13

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