Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word

mess - definition and synonyms

What are red words?

90% of the time, speakers of English use just 7,500 words in speech and writing. These words appear in red, and are graded with stars. One-star words are frequent, two-star words are more frequent, and three-star words are the most frequent.

Thesaurus diagram

The thesaurus of synonyms and related words is fully integrated into the dictionary. Click on the thesaurus category heading under the button in an entry to see the synonyms and related words for that meaning.

verb     mess pronunciation in American English
Word Forms
present tense
present participlemessing
past tensemessed
past participlemessed

phrasal verbs

mess around

Word Forms
present tense
I/you/we/theymess around
he/she/itmesses around
present participlemessing around
past tensemessed around
past participlemessed around
British informal
  1. 1
    [intransitive] to behave in a silly way, especially when you should be working or paying attention to something

    Stop messing around – I’m serious about this!

  2. 2
    [intransitive] to spend time doing things in a relaxed way

    We spent the weekend messing around on John’s boat.

  3. 3
    [intransitive] to waste time doing things that are not important

    There’s no point messing around. Let’s start now.

    not mess around:

    They don’t mess around, do they? I ordered the book yesterday and it’s already here.

  4. 4
    [intransitive] to try to change or repair something, especially when this is unnecessary or unsuccessful
    mess around with:

    He’ll spend hours messing around with that motorcycle.

  5. 5
    [intransitive] to have sex or a sexual relationship with someone, especially when you should not
    mess around with:

    Diane’s been messing around with a married man.

  6. 6
    [transitive] mess someone around to treat someone badly, especially by changing your mind or by not doing what you promised

mess up

Word Forms
present tense
I/you/we/theymess up
he/she/itmesses up
present participlemessing up
past tensemessed up
past participlemessed up
  1. 1
    [intransitive/transitive] to make a mistake, or to do something badly

    You messed up. Don’t let it happen again.

  2. 2
    [transitive] to make something dirty or not neat

    They had managed to mess up the whole office.

    The wind had messed his hair up.

  3. 3
    [transitive] informal to be the cause of someone’s physical, emotional, or mental problems

    The virus messed up my body so badly that they told me I was going to die.

  4. 4
    [transitive] to damage or spoil something

    I’m not going to let him mess up my life.

mess with

or mess around with

Word Forms
present tense
I/you/we/theymess with
he/she/itmesses with
present participlemessing with
past tensemessed with
past participlemessed with
  1. 1
    mess with someone to make someone angry, or to argue with them

    I wouldn’t mess with her if I were you.

  2. 2
    mess with something to become involved with something that is dangerous

    A lot of the kids had been messing with drugs.

    Synonyms and related words
  3. 4
    mess with someone’s head very informal to seriously upset someone or make them confused

    Don’t mess with my head; are you kidding or not?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter


a lifestyle focussing on simple pleasures such as comfort and cosiness in the home, and spending time with friends and family

BuzzWord Article

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

add a word


A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog
Macmillan learn live love play