What's the difference between measure and means when they are used to describe "a method"?

Google seems not to help very much because it interprets "measure" as "scientific measurement" and "means" as "mean, mode and median".

I looked them up in the Cambridge online dictionary and my understanding so far is:

  • "Measure" is a singular noun so it can be used in "a measure of doing sth" or "several measures of doing that", while "means" is a plural noun so you can't say "a means of doing sth", but "I have no means of doing that" is fine.
  • They generally can be used interchangeably except in the idioms such as "by no means" or "have the measure of sb/sth"
  • Perhaps some context will help. Means is often used as a singular collective, as in a means to an end, which cannot be interchanged with a measure to an end.
    – deadrat
    Sep 29, 2016 at 21:24

1 Answer 1


"Measure" when used in this way more or less means an "attempt." "Means" means a "method" or the "resources" necessary to accomplish something.

"Measures" seems to have a connotation of uncertainty: "We've taken security measures." Yet they don't really know if those "measures" will stop the thief, etc.

One of the dictionary definitions of measures is "a legislative bill or enactment" (dictionary.com, under noun, definition #12) And from this, "measure" can also have the connotation of an attempt that is well-meaning, or presented as such, but usually is or will be ultimately ineffective, and most likely will make a bigger mess rather than solving the problem. Ex: "The Affordable Care Act was a measure taken to reduce health care costs."

So basically, "measure" only shows intention to accomplish a particular thing. "Means" implies that it is known that is will work. You will hear "this is the means by which we do X" but not "these are the measures by which we do X"; rather "these are the measures we are implementing to do X" where there is almost an ellipsis "these are the measures we are implementing [in an attempt] to do X"

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