\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

The relationship has been a complete mess [under Trump], and US policy toward Russia has been incoherent and unpredictable. Fred Weir, The Christian Science Monitor, "Upcoming Trump-Putin summit gives Russians hope for US thaw," 3 July 2018 The screen looks good, but the room, like most of the gallery space, is still a mess, scattered with empty vitrines and submarine parts and carts of tungsten track lighting that was swapped out for UV. Kevin Dupzyk, Popular Mechanics, "Unseen Oceans: How the American Museum of Natural History Builds a New Exhibit," 21 June 2018 Unfortunately, the result is too often a muddled mess. Anchorage Daily News, "In ‘To the Ends of the Earth,’ an ambitious attempt to encompass era of polar exploration," 7 July 2018 Before Bullock reached the stretch of eastbound freeway wast of Federal Boulevard in Oak Park, there was a mess in the road. Teri Figueroa,, "Motorcyclist killed in Saturday crash was Navy veteran," 5 July 2018 And the patty should be bigger, to avoid creating a slippery mess and a pile of uneaten bread nubs. Zoe Sayler, The Seattle Times, "Seattle’s veggie burgers: Eating your vegetables never tasted this good," 3 July 2018 The rites will be solemn, but the massacre was a gruesome mess. The Economist, "How the royal houses of Europe abandoned the Romanovs," 28 June 2018 But many California politicos now say the experiment has failed, creating a confusing mess for voters in which candidates sometimes spend money to boost certain opponents in attempts to game the system. NBC News, "California polls close as both parties scramble for spots on the November ballot," 6 June 2018 In the 49th, polls sponsored by Democrat Sara Jacobs and a group urging Democrats to vote for Democrat Doug Applegate show a similar mess. Harry Enten, CNN, "California's top two primary could be a disaster for Democrats. It could be for Republicans as well.," 1 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Like garlic, Nordgren suggests keeping onions in a cool, dark place, but not in the fridge because that'll mess with their texture. Audrey Bruno, SELF, "Here's How to Store Pretty Much Any Kind of Produce," 25 June 2018 If a company messes up, the US could be in violation of international law. Loren Grush, The Verge, "House bill would regulate bold commercial space missions — but not very closely," 24 Apr. 2018 That's crucial because that's messing with the bottom of the food chain, Kharouba said. CBS News, "Global warming is messing up nature's dinner time, study says," 17 Apr. 2018 Worse yet, the city’s codes are all shades of messed up. Lauren Ritchie,, "Mount Dora should take hint from the universe and settle 'Starry Night' lawsuit," 2 Mar. 2018 Retailers immediately started fretting that this would mess up supply chains for the holiday season. David Lazarus,, "California Inc.: A tough job market for recent college grads," 9 July 2018 Every generation wants some assurance that no matter how mundane or messed up our lives are, love might be just around the corner. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Netflix’s totally delightful Set It Up proves just how durable the romcom formula is," 29 June 2018 If the Trump administration’s original decision to separate families whose adults were arrested on the border was a political disaster and a policy fiasco, its retreat from that ledge has been, if possible, even more messed up. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Chaos On the Border, Chaos in Trumpland," 21 June 2018 An error by Jose Altuve and a sacrifice fly from Nomar Mazara were how the Rangers tied the game at two, but Morton, the Astros' starter, bore the most responsibility for messing up an early two-run lead. Hunter Atkins, Houston Chronicle, "Astros pick up messy win over Rangers, clinch series," 10 June 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


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


see mess entry 1

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Statistics for mess

Last Updated

3 Nov 2018

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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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).


playful or foolish behavior

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