In a mess

  1. Jim’s apartment is always in a mess.
  2. His office is a mess.

Do I have to put the preposition “in” in front of “a mess”?

Thank you!!!

No, I’m pretty sure it is optional. Trying to think of what the distinction is, I can’t come up with any examples where one version would definitely be right and the other version wrong, but I think that the plain ‘a mess’ version is maybe slight stronger - like ‘his office is in a mess, but it will only take five minutes to tidy up’, versus ‘his office is a mess - he never tidies it, and it will be a day’s work to get it looking clean’. But realistically, neither version would be wrong in either of those examples.

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No. Both usages are practically identical.

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For me, I’ve never heard about a “thing” being “IN” a mess, only a person. And in those situations, the mess is something other than an actual physical mess.

For example:

  1. Do you have $1,000 to help cover Jim’s gambling debt? He is in a big mess and needs help getting out.

–In this situation, “the mess” is the mobster that he ticked off by putting up money he did not have. it’s a bad situation Jim is in the middle of.

  1. Jim lost all his money betting on horses that didn’t win. He can’t afford to pay his cleaning lady and that’s why his apartment is always a mess.
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That’s a good point about ‘in a mess’ being the correct version when referring to a set of circumstances, rather than a physical object or place (although that’s when you’re not talking about the person directly, rather than the situation that they are in - you could still say something like ‘his personal circumstances are a mess’ or ‘his personal circumstances are in a mess’). But the two versions both sound correct to me when used of something physical. ‘My hair is a mess’ / ‘My hair in in a mess’ - both of those sound valid to my ear.