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I looked in the Cambridge Dictionary and mess is an uncountable. I wonder why mess is used with 'a'?

He makes a terrible mess when he's cooking.

I look a mess

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  • Have you tried looking up this word in a dictionary? Oct 22, 2017 at 4:38
  • I've looked up it in the cambridge dictionary. Oct 22, 2017 at 4:46

2 Answers 2

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"Mess" is countable; its plural is "messes". For example:

"There is a mess upstairs in your room."

versus

"There are messes all over this house!"

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  • dictionary.cambridge.org/ru/… The dictionary says that mess is [S or U]. What do they mean? Oct 22, 2017 at 5:24
  • Send me the link of this and I'll try to figure it out. As of now, I don't know what it means. I'm guessing the U means uncountable, but the S, I don't know. It could mean that it's both countable and uncountable, but I'm not sure without a link.
    – Nick
    Oct 22, 2017 at 6:04
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    Your dictionary in Russian is wrong. It says the "S" means it is usually treated as a singular noun, which is true, but it can be treated as a plural in some cases (see above). The "U" means uncountable; however, that's wrong; it can be counted. Example: "There were three different messes that I had to clean up."
    – Nick
    Oct 22, 2017 at 7:46
  • You are right! English and Russian versions are different. Oct 22, 2017 at 10:26
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    @AlexeySubbota If you move your mouse over the 'S' and 'U' on a computer, it should give you explanations of what they mean. Unfortunately, the dictionary's explanations are wrong; it says that mess cannot be used with a(n), and yet the examples they give use a(n). Someone made a mistake while working on that entry :-(
    – user230
    Oct 22, 2017 at 20:04
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What the Cambridge dictionary actually says isn't that it's uncountable, but that it's "S or U", i.e. sometimes it's a singular countable noun, and sometimes it's uncountable.

It doesn't allow for it being plural (which occasionally it is, in real life), so to that extent the dictionary is inaccurate (and sometimes learners' dictionaries exclude rare senses or uses) - but nor does it imply that it's always uncountable.

It is true that is often used as an uncountable noun ("a lot of mess", "some mess", "some more mess", "not very much mess").

It can also be used as a singular countable noun, as both you and Cambridge noted ("making a mess").

Finally, it is occasionally used in the plural.

Oxford Living Dictionaries gives more than a hundred examples of the use of "mess" as a noun, and none of them are of the plural.

Collins Learners' Dictionary divides its definitions of "mess" as a noun into four senses. The first is marked as "singular", the next two as "variable" (meaning sometimes countable and sometimes uncountable), and the fourth as "usually singular".

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