I'm trying to guess if an English speaker says mean or tight when you are talking about a person who don't like to spend their own money.

Do you use different words depending on the friendship with that person?

UPDATE 2019/05/18

I'm asking for the use in UK but answers about how to say it in US are appreciated too.

Thank you very much for your reply.

  • 1
    What research have you done with online dictionaries? The Cambridge suggests an answer to your question in terms of slang or formality. It also appears that there is a British/US usage difference that I was unaware of. In any case it appears that your question should be posted on English Language Learners.
    – David
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 18:58
  • 1
    In the sense of 'parsimonious', :'mean' is standard or formal; 'tight' is slang or informal, and mainly British. Commented May 17, 2019 at 19:08
  • 2
    Neither are used much in the US. 'cheap' is the preferred word in AmE. Are you asking about any particular region or about all English speaking regions?
    – Mitch
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 19:10
  • 1
    I agree with Mitch about "mean" and "tight." In addition to "cheap," in the US one might also say "tightfisted" or "stingy." I think "stingy" is probably the most common. If you don't know the person well, then it's better to be diplomatic: "I see that you are careful with your money." Commented May 17, 2019 at 21:09
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    None of the words described so far are complimentary - but "mean" is perhaps the strongest and most disapproving of all. Scrooge was mean. If you intend the observation as a compliment you might say that the person is "careful (with money)".
    – WS2
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


UK/US usage

It would appear from dictionaries that both these expressions are regarded as (mainly) British (which may explain the lack of response to the question, assuming most list members are from the US — I am British and was unaware of this). The evidence for this is entries in The Oxford Dictionary for tight and mean, the Cambridge Dictionary for mean, Collins for tight and mean, and the absence of this meaning in the (US) Merriam-Webster Dictionary for tight, although there is an entry for this sense of the adjective mean.

A more specific alternative to tight is tight-fisted, which is listed in Merriam-Webster and not indicated as British in the others. However, there is no point comparing usage of this to that of mean in a US context.

British usage of mean and tight (or tight-fisted)

Reference to the dictionaries cited above shows that tight and tight-fisted are informal or slang usage, whereas mean is not. This would have only a slight influence on the choice of spoken language, whereas it would affect the choice in written language.

Subjective opinion on use with friends

There are very few circumstances in which, as an adult, I would call a friend either mean, tight or tight-fisted, as this would be likely to cause great offence. (Children use the word frequently, however, but they have a heightened sense of what seems to them ‘fair’.) If I was really sure of my relationship with someone and felt it necessary or wished to needle them I would probably prefer a slang expression like tight-fisted to soften things, or make a play on their being Scottish (as I live in Glasgow). But tone of voice and eye-contact is all in such circumstances.

If you are not a native speaker, don’t even consider it.

  • This is an awesome reply, thank you so much. I love subjective opinion too because I think that this is the "real" away to learn a new language, with the opinion of the real speakears not just a book :-).
    – mrroot5
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 17:12

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