\ ˈmes \

Definition of mess

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a quantity of food:
a archaic : food set on a table at one time
b : a prepared dish of soft food also : a mixture of ingredients cooked or eaten together
c : enough food of a specified kind for a dish or a meal picked a mess of peas for dinner
2a : a group of persons who regularly take their meals together every officer with a unit … is obliged to belong to a mess— S. G. Maurice also : a meal so taken
b : a place where meals are regularly served to a group : mess hall The soldiers marched to the mess for breakfast.
3a : a disordered, untidy, offensive, or unpleasant state or condition your room is in a mess
b : one that is disordered, untidy, offensive, or unpleasant usually because of blundering, laxity, or misconduct [the movie] is a mess, as sloppy in concept as it is in execution— Judith Crist
4 : a large quantity or number They're in a mess of trouble.


messed; messing; messes

Definition of mess (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to provide with meals at a mess
2a : to make dirty or untidy : disarrange often used with up don't mess up your room
b : to mix up : bungle often used with up really messed up my life
3 : to interfere with often used with up magnetic storms that mess up communicationsTime
4 : to rough up : manhandle often used with up mess him up good so he won't cheat us again

intransitive verb

1 : to take meals with a mess
2 : to make a mess
3a : putter, trifle children like to mess around with paints
b : to handle or play with something especially carelessly don't mess with my camera often used with around
c : to take an active interest in something or someone messing around with new video techniques also : interfere, meddle messing in other people's affairs you'd better not mess with me
4 : to become confused or make an error usually used with up

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Examples of mess in a Sentence


He was a mess after gardening all day. My hair is a mess. Well, that's another fine mess you've gotten me into! How do we get ourselves into these messes? The school system is a mess. Things were a real mess for a while after she retired. My life is a complete mess. She was a real mess for a while after her divorce. He was a mess during his daughter's wedding ceremony.


please don't mess with me while I'm trying to concentrate
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Now's your time to breathe life back into the season—without the pine needles making a mess of your floor. Taylor Mead, House Beautiful, "How To DIY A Plant Ornament For Your Christmas Tree," 29 Nov. 2018 But instead of a sprawling, architectural mess like a McMansion, this contemporary design from David Quillin Architecture Berlin uses glass, steel, and concrete to create an intriguing waterfront home. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Modern glass and steel house asks $3.6M," 5 Nov. 2018 An older, wiser, bitterer woman who loves to make a mess and get revenge? Danny Murphy, Marie Claire, "Who Would You Cast in a First Wives Club Remake?," 30 Aug. 2018 The committee has to be rooting for the Tide to keep it out of this mess. 2. Ralph D. Russo, The Seattle Times, "Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan hold steady in CFP," 14 Nov. 2018 What kind of mess is that having a baby girl with dreads! Christine Michel Carter, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Challenges of Raising a Black Girl to Feel Beautiful," 18 Oct. 2018 Perhaps the only way out of this mess is for the stakes to be raised, for Democrats to respond to Republican provocations and an increasingly tilted playing field by striking back and pushing the system to a breaking point. Ezra Klein, Vox, "The rigging of American politics," 16 Oct. 2018 These basket weave caddies are totally Pinterest-worthy without any of the mess. Maria Cassano, Allure, "The 15 Best Shower Organizers You Can Get Online Right Now," 5 Aug. 2018 With President Trump keen to wipe his hands of the mess in Syria, the Russians can wait out Washington. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, "Russia stays in the driver’s seat in Syria," 10 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Hard to mess up a butt — just cook it slow until the scapula slides out clean. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "After an extensive taste test, here are the best BBQ ribs in Louisville," 29 June 2018 Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija has learned this season not to mess with the natural healing process. Mark Gonzales,, "Ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija healthy for Giants' second-half drive," 9 July 2018 Hitters swung through it again and again, and Cole seemed content not to mess with a good thing. Washington Post, "The Fastball Paradox: With velocity up, fastballs on decline," 19 June 2018 The younger brother was smart enough not to mess with a jilted lover. Nick Hoppe, San Francisco Chronicle, "Breaking up is hard to do," 4 June 2018 Someone else off camera can be heard cursing about how messed up the man's rant is. Amy B Wang,, "'My next call is to ICE!': Man rages as workers speak Spanish at a Manhattan deli," 17 May 2018 Moral of the story: Don't mess with the Kardashian-Jenner sisters. Isabel Greenberg, Harper's BAZAAR, "Kylie Jenner and Her Sisters Shut Down Fake Travis Scott Cheating Rumors," 6 Dec. 2018 The bill went nowhere, as Gov. Nathan Deal, who maintained a longstanding bromance with former Mayor Kasim Reed, let it be known that the move would mess up the state’s bond rating. Bill Torpy, ajc, "Torpy at Large: Georgia political turbulence? Grab Atlanta’s airport," 27 June 2018 Whether the clocks would be messed up or the internet would crash. Jabari Young, San Antonio Express-News, "Off-Topic: Return of Steve Smith," 11 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mess.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of mess


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for mess

Noun and Verb

Middle English mes, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin missus course at a meal, from missus, past participle of mittere to put, from Latin, to send — more at smite

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Statistics for mess

Last Updated

13 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for mess

The first known use of mess was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for mess



English Language Learners Definition of mess

: a very dirty or untidy state or condition

: something or someone that looks very dirty or untidy

: a situation that is very complicated or difficult to deal with


\ ˈmes \

Kids Definition of mess

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a dirty or untidy state They left things in a mess.
2 : something in a dirty or untidy state Your hair is a mess.
3 : a difficult situation How do you get into these messes?
4 : a group of people (as military personnel) who regularly eat together
5 : a place (as in the military) where meals are served


messed; messing

Kids Definition of mess (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to make dirty or untidy They messed the place up.
2 : to make mistakes in or mix up She messed up the speech.
3 : to become confused or make an error I messed up the first time.
4 : to use or do in an aimless way I messed around on the computer all afternoon.
5 : to handle in a careless way Stop messing with my camera.
6 : to deal with in a way that may cause anger or trouble Don't mess with them.

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More from Merriam-Webster on mess

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with mess

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for mess

Spanish Central: Translation of mess

Nglish: Translation of mess for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of mess for Arabic Speakers

Comments on mess

What made you want to look up mess? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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