Learn English – “What does it mean?” vs. “What does that mean?” — what’s the difference


I tried to find an answer to this question. But no luck. Can somebody explain it to me? An American friend of mine said, "I've never heard about 'What does it mean?', I've always used 'What does that mean?'". My other English friend said: "It depends on context." I asked, what context? He tried to explain but couldn't. So now I'm asking you:

What is the difference between "What does it mean?" and "What does that mean?" in common speech?

Best Answer

Both are acceptable. That is more specific. You would probably use it for a very particular thing whose meaning you wanted to understand. For example:

  1. You are looking at a sign written in a foreign language and you turn to a native speaker and ask "What does it mean?"

  2. You are looking at several signs. You understand most of them but there's one you don't understand. You point and say "What does that mean?"

It is more general. What does it mean? (life, the universe, everything)

Like your friend says, it depends on context, but actually they are fairly interchangeable. Everyone would understand you.