Definition of mess in English:

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Pronunciation: /mɛs/


[usually in singular]
1A dirty or untidy state of things or of a place: she made a mess of the kitchen my hair was a mess
More example sentences
  • Go to Paddy's shed to avoid making a mess of the kitchen.
  • Each time you host a party at home, it's a total mess in the kitchen due to last minute preparations.
  • The kitchen is a mess and I walked in, took one look around and walked out.
untidiness, disorder, disarray, clutter, heap, shambles, litter, tangle, jumble, muddle, mishmash, chaos, confusion, disorganization, turmoil
informal muck, fright, sight
British informal dog's dinner/breakfast, tip
1.1A thing or collection of things causing a dirty or untidy state: she replaced the jug and mopped up the mess
More example sentences
  • Residents of Speedwell Road, Old Heath, were disgusted after Colchester Council refuse collectors left the mess in their wake yesterday morning.
  • Dog bins were to be specially built and extra money put towards collection of the mess.
  • Mr. Sims, the drama teacher, crawled on the floor, trying to collect the mess.
1.2A person who is dirty or untidy: I look a mess
More example sentences
  • Two nights and three days on a smoky train, I was a real mess by the time I got to Matagorda.
  • She looked like a real mess, her long hair all spread around, her make up destroyed, giving her the look of a monster.
  • I want to ride every hour of the waking day, but after a month of riding, just an hour turns me into a sweating, out-of-breath, pathetic mess.
1.3 [with modifier] Used euphemistically to refer to the excrement of a domestic animal: dog mess
More example sentences
  • Police say he is responsible for pushing dog mess through letterboxes, smashing windows, damaging cars, pelting people with eggs and assaulting other youngsters.
  • According to a couple who spoke to Coun Kaye about dog mess, he told them as he left: ‘You can't educate the working class.’
  • One said that the problem of dog mess had been overshadowed by abandoned condoms, empty alcohol containers and remnants of glue sniffing, which had been left of the recreation field.
excrement, dung, muck, faeces, excreta, dirt
2A situation that is confused and full of problems: the economy is still in a terrible mess
More example sentences
  • The situation is a mess, and a confusing one, but there is no point in even talking about changing it.
  • They already knew that the giant had feet of clay: a government that can make such a mess of a minor colonial war can also make a mess of disaster relief.
  • ‘The only risk is if the Government make a mess of things and the stadium is not completed as planned,’ said Mr Hobbs.
plight, predicament, emergency, tight spot, tight corner, difficulty, straits, trouble, quandary, dilemma, problem, muddle, mix-up, confusion, complication, imbroglio, entanglement, mire
informal jam, fix, pickle, stew, hot water, hole, pretty/fine kettle of fish, scrape
muddle, botch, bungle, wreck
informal hash, muck, foul-up, screw-up
British informal cock-up, shambles, omnishambles, car crash
North American informal snafu
vulgar slang fuck-up, balls-up
2.1A person whose life is confused and full of problems: he needs treatment of some kind—he’s a real mess
More example sentences
  • All through my pregnancy I was so scared that I would lose it; I was in a real mess.
  • Her boyfriend's just dumped her, she's a real mess.
  • It shows that young Leftists are a real psychological mess - with VERY unhappy childhoods.
3A portion of semi-liquid food: a mess of mashed black beans and rice
More example sentences
  • The manager looks at my plate - a mess of crumbled bread and glistening meat - and says Can I Help You in a tone that blames me for living.
  • This sounds simple enough but the deeper flavours of the black cherries married magically with the creamy mess and light brioche bread.
  • A foamy mess of soggy bread floated on top of a thick orange liquid.
4A building or room providing meals and recreational facilities for members of the armed forces: the sergeants' mess
More example sentences
  • The building will also house a mess room, locker rooms, kitchen, offices and an education suite complete with computer and reference books.
  • You can assign me to clean the latrine or peel potatoes in the army mess, and I will be deriving a science out of it.
  • They were often blamed for eating all the sandwiches before the other officers returned to mess at night.
5 (a mess of) North American informal A large amount or quantity of: big-time outfits that do a mess of printing
More example sentences
  • A mess of us will convene in San Diego for this year's Comic-Con International.
  • Although there are some truly enjoyable moments, The Last Kiss is generally a mess of stories and lacks the heart that makes a romantic movie so memorable.
  • I've eaten at Kam Han several times recently, both at lunch and dinner, as well as having ordered a mess of takeout, and the food has generally been very good.


1 [with object] Make untidy or dirty: you’ve messed up my beautiful carpet
More example sentences
  • I watched Danny's fingers as they trailed through my hair, completely messing my hairstyle, which had taken hours to do.
  • She messed my already disorderly hair with her fingers.
  • Hauser is about as bland as they come, robotically experiencing happiness, pain, and anger without ever messing his dyed hair or wrinkling his smoothed face.
dirty, befoul, litter, besmirch, pollute;
clutter up, disarrange, jumble, throw into disorder/confusion, muss, dishevel, rumple, tumble
1.1 [no object] (Of a domestic animal) defecate: they had some problems with dogs messing in the store
More example sentences
  • A member of Craven's dog control panel, Coun Polly English said: ‘If anyone sees a dog messing and they know the owner let me know and I will pass it on.’
  • On one occasion we even offered a plastic bag to the owner of a Labrador whose dog had messed in the field, and all we got was a lot of abusive language!
  • So Hazel does not like horses messing in the street, fearing a health hazard, but she drives a car.
1.2Make dirty by defecating: he feared he would mess the bed
More example sentences
  • In fact, I am so frightened, I fear I might just mess my pants!
  • Is it a strategy to not mess one's own pants?
  • When he sees a muzzle-flash in his vision, he messes his pants before he falls dead or wounded.
2 [no object, with adverbial] Have one’s meals with a particular person, especially as a member of an armed forces' mess: I messed at first with Harry, who became a lifelong friend



make a mess

Create a dirty or untidy state: all the eggs broke and made a mess
More example sentences
  • A responsible adult knows that if you make a mess, you're expected to clean it up, regardless if anyone compliments you for your efforts.
  • While you harvested a ton of apples, you still ended up with lots rotting on the ground, attracting yellow jackets and making a mess.
  • He's going to leave his clothes everywhere and make a mess.

make a mess of

Ruin or spoil (something): he ends up making a mess of the story
More example sentences
  • I made several pots of coffee, and worked on frying up 2lbs of bacon and making a mess of the eggs.
  • She dismisses him as the kind of person who makes a mess of everything.
  • This is one sketch of an idea for the cover of a book about twin sisters, one of whom develops a bad attitude that makes a mess of her life.
2.1Do (something) very badly or ineptly: leaders made a mess of dealing with the aftermath
More example sentences
  • He made a mess of explaining who would end up paying more tax to fund his promises.
  • The leaders who made a mess of dealing with the aftermath.
  • Manufacturers are making a mess of implementing the system.

mess with someone's head

US informal Make someone feel frustrated, anxious, or upset: he wasn’t about to let some goddamn punk mess with his head
More example sentences
  • I think there is a real live monkey living in my computer and he messes with my head by dealing me hands that cannot be won.
  • You know, anybody who's gone without sleep, even for just one night, knows that it can really sort of, you know, mess with your head.
  • He had offseason ankle surgery, and though trainer Dave England says the ankle no longer is bothering Johnson, it may be messing with his head.

Phrasal verbs


mess about/around

Behave in a silly or playful way: he lay there snoring so I thought he was messing about and told him to get up
More example sentences
  • Well I just thought it was silly girls messing about, that they had been drinking or something so I didn't think twice about it.
  • We rang and messed around, recording silly messages of witty retorts to various ‘players’.
  • The excitement was infectious and the adults too were to be seen sniggering over silly things, and messing about, being boys again.
1.1Spend time doing something in a pleasantly desultory way: messing about in boats
More example sentences
  • Two years later, McCaleb is retired, popping 34 pills a day and spending his time messing around in a boat.
  • Also, I had spent a happy childhood messing about in boats on the Solent.
  • You know, I wrote a story about some children who spent their time messing about in boats in the Lake District.
potter about, amuse oneself, pass the time, do nothing very much, fiddle about/around, footle about/around, play about/around, fool about/around;
fidget, toy, trifle, tamper, tinker, interfere, meddle, monkey (about/around)
informal piddle about/around
British informal muck about/around, lark (about/around), fanny about/around
vulgar slang frig about/around, fuck about/around
British vulgar slang piss about/around, arse about/around, bugger about/around

mess about/around with

Interfere with: the minister messed around with health, and look at the state we are in
More example sentences
  • Once again Tone seems intent on radically messing around with institutions that, until he interfered, used to function reasonably well.
  • The second burglary happened when a man knocked on the door and claiming some children had been messing around with roadworks outside.
  • ‘My mum used to say, ‘Stop messing around with bits of paper and pencils and go outside and play with the other children’,’ he recalled.
informal2.1 Engage in an affair with (someone, especially the partner of another person): Steve was stark-staring paranoid jealous when it came to anyone messing about with his wife don’t mess with my wife
More example sentences
  • The main distinguishing feature of Lovecraft's Mythos is that anyone who messes around with the occult gets eaten by ghouls, driven insane or turned into a fishman.
  • They were long and calloused at the fingertips from messing around with a guitar.
  • And, even with you out of the scene and having (to a degree) accepted that that was the way things were going to be, the few girls that I did mess around with just didn't connect with me.

mess someone about/around

British informal Cause someone problems, especially by acting unfairly or indecisively: get your own back—make him sorry he ever messed you about!
More example sentences
  • Sorry to mess you around, but I am not in the office again today so will not be able to make the meeting.
  • Yeah that's great, look I'm sorry for messing you about but when you said you couldn't do the half I only brought enough money for a point.
  • People are concerned, but the feeling is we have been messed about for over ten years.

mess up

informal Mishandle a situation: I really messed up
More example sentences
  • It's an extremely messed up situation when one innocent man has to die to protect others.
  • It messes up your health, screws up your lungs and eats you away inside.
  • It just messes up an already messed up situation.
mismanage, mishandle, misdirect, misgovern, misconduct, bungle, botch, fluff, fumble, mess up, mar, spoil, ruin, wreck
informal make a hash of, muff, muck up, foul up, screw up, bitch up
British informal make a muck of, make a pig's ear of, make a Horlicks of, cock up
vulgar slang balls up, bugger up, fuck up

mess someone up

informal Cause someone emotional or psychological problems.
Example sentences
  • Anorexia and Bulimia are eating disorders that can really mess you up, even kill you!
  • As even the teen recognizes, it will just mess him up emotionally.
  • Anyways, we got in really early, which shows you just how badly the traffic messes you up.
US 5.1 Inflict violence or injury on someone: the wreck messed him up so much that he can’t walk
More example sentences
  • Don't even start with me, because I will mess you up.
  • ‘I'm gonna mess you up,’ he said to Rock as they squared off in the final sequence.
  • The fight with that new watchman really messed him up.

mess something up

informal Spoil something by inept handling: an error like that could easily mess up an entire day’s work
More example sentences
  • Jessica figured Michael knew his choreography like the back of his hand to ever mess it up too easily.
  • ‘It's very stressful,’ Nieh says, ‘because if I mess it up, the magic is spoiled for the audience.’
  • He also said he had no problems staying on, but that some of his plans were messed up as a result.
bungle, botch, fluff, fumble, make a mess of, mismanage, mishandle, misdirect, misgovern, misconduct, mar, spoil, ruin, mangle, wreck
informal make a hash of, muff, muck up, foul up, screw up, bitch up
British informal make a muck of, make a pig's ear of, make a Horlicks of, cock up
vulgar slang balls up, bugger up, fuck up

mess with

informal Meddle or interfere with: stop messing with things you don’t understand
More example sentences
  • He would regret messing with me and interfering with the master's plans!
  • They all knew that Jordan still liked me, and no guy was going to mess with me if Jordan interfered.
  • If we're really serious about the nation's health then let's tackle the big issues first and stop messing with the small pleasures of many of our citizens.


Middle English: from Old French mes 'portion of food', from late Latin missum 'something put on the table', past participle of mittere 'send, put'. The original sense was 'a serving of (semi-liquid) food', later 'liquid food for an animal'; this gave rise (early 19th century) to the senses 'unappetizing concoction' and 'predicament', on which sense 1 is based. In late Middle English the term also denoted any of the small groups into which the company at a banquet was divided (who were served from the same dishes); hence, 'a group who regularly eat together' (recorded in military use from the mid 16th century).

  • Current senses of mess, ‘a dirty or untidy state’, and ‘a confused situation full of problems’, date only from the 19th century. Back in the Middle Ages a mess was ‘a portion of food’, and especially ‘a portion of liquid or pulpy food’. This is the meaning in the phrase to sell for a mess of pottage (pottage is soup or stew), which refers to the biblical story, told in Genesis, in which Esau sells his birthright to his brother Jacob. At medieval banquets diners were divided into small groups, usually of four people, who sat together and were served from the same dishes. Such a group was also a mess, and is still so on board ship and in military canteens. From this developed the sense ‘a place providing meals and recreational facilities for members of the armed forces’, as in the officers' mess.

Words that rhyme with mess

acquiesce, address, assess, Bess, bless, bouillabaisse, caress, cess, chess, coalesce, compress, confess, convalesce, cress, deliquesce, digress, dress, duchesse, duress, effervesce, effloresce, evanesce, excess, express, fess, finesse, fluoresce, guess, Hesse, impress, incandesce, intumesce, jess, largesse, less, manageress, ness, noblesse, obsess, oppress, outguess, phosphoresce, politesse, possess, press, priestess, princess, process, profess, progress, prophetess, regress, retrogress, stress, success, suppress, tendresse, top-dress, transgress, tress, tristesse, underdress, vicomtesse, yes

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: mess

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