What Does Mercury in Retrograde Mean?

When everything seems to be going wrong at the same time, it might not be just bad luck. Here’s what happens during a Mercury retrograde.

“Mercury must be in retrograde” has become a kind of catch-all phrase for explaining why something has gone haywire in our lives. It’s basically the Murphy’s Law of astrology: Everything that can go wrong will go wrong during this planetary movement. At least, that’s how we use it in common conversation. But what does Mercury in retrograde really mean in astrological terms?

Mercury is in retrograde when it appears to go backward in its orbit. This optical illusion occurs multiple times a year because it takes just 88 days for Mercury to circle the sun, compared with Earth’s 365 days. As such, astrologers think that the areas of life ruled by this planet can also take a step in the wrong direction. According to astrologer Emily Ridout, that means complications surrounding communication and travel.

“Mercury is the winged messenger of the gods in [Roman] mythology,” she explains. “That imagery indicates the intellect, because we use our intellect to communicate: writing, spoken word, email, contracts, agreements, etc.” The planet closest to the sun is associated with conveying messages, as well as means of conveyance (as in transportation). So while a Mercury retrograde may get you into an argument with your significant other or delay your train, it’s not the reason your toaster broke this morning.

So, what exactly does Mercury in retrograde mean for us? Will it affect our zodiac compatibility, or will we feel anything if we have a specific rising sign? Read on for the astrological details—and don’t forget to browse through these funny zodiac memes and learn more about your zodiac element and power color for more fun.

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When will Mercury be in retrograde in 2023?

According to Ridout, there are four cycles of Mercury retrograde to look out for in 2023. The first actually started back on Dec. 28 and will last until Jan. 18 in Capricorn. The second is from April 21 to May 14 in Taurus. The third is from Aug. 23 to Sept. 15 in Virgo, and the last will be from Dec. 13 to Jan. 1, 2024 in Capricorn and Sagittarius.

How does Mercury retrograde affect me?

Don’t jump into panic mode prematurely. “Nothing about Mercury in retrograde is catastrophic,” Ridout says. “It’s just annoying.” That being said, communication and travel are essential parts of life—especially modern life. “The modernized, technological world is very dependent on Mercury,” she notes. “Ours is a culture of hyper connectivity and hyper productivity.”

Today’s working world revolves around emails, press conferences, forms and shipping labels. We keep in touch with friends and family through texts, calls and social media. Throwing a wrench in any of these aspects of life can cost dollars and patience, which is why taking time to think carefully during a Mercury retrograde can be the difference between success and failure.

“We’re so busy panicking because we want to move forward that we forget about the importance of reflection,” Ridout explains. “Maybe the way we’ve been moving forward is not the most optimal way.” When Mercury is in retrograde, evaluate your decision-making process instead of simply going about business as usual. Consider all the possible consequences of your words before sending a confessional text to your crush or standing up to your boss. And don’t forget to consider your zodiac compatibility before making important relationship decisions during this time.

Rideout also says to look out for the effects of Mercury in retrograde in the material world, as 2023’s retrogrades are happening in earth signs. Also pay special attention to inconveniences that pop up, or people from the past who seem to show up out of the blue. “These situations tend to arise to spark your inner mind to work in new ways,” Rideout explains, “thereby overcoming past challenges with the inner reflection and insights you’ve had since the last time you faced similar situations.”

Does Mercury retrograde affect relationships?

Communication is the heart of any relationship, and there are certain communication rules every couple should follow. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship, poor communication can lead to hurt feelings, frustration and arguments. A Mercury retrograde makes these setbacks more likely, as it is a time when messages can get lost in translation.

“You might realize your partner communicates in a very direct way and tells the facts,” Ridout says, “and you communicate in a very feeling-centered, roundabout way. Sometimes there’s a mistake where they don’t hear your message or you take theirs as being too harsh.” It is easy to lose patience and storm off in a huff, but that usually just makes matters worse. Instead, be mindful about how to articulate opinions without pushing the other person’s buttons.

“Take this time and use it to make the relationship stronger,” Ridout suggests. “We always have that choice when things aren’t working the way we planned. Are you going to say, ‘How can we look at how we’re communicating to make this run more smoothly in the future?’ Or are you just going to blow up and blame someone else?” If one of your recurring fights is over housework, maybe you can split responsibilities by looking at your favorite chore, based on your zodiac sign.

What should you not do during Mercury retrograde?

Ideally, no significant life decisions should be made when Mercury is in retrograde. Contracts should not be signed, and it’s probably not the best time to publish a controversial opinion piece. “It’s a time of reflection,” Ridout says, “not a time of initiating new conversations or activities.” If you can, give yourself time and space to rest before jumping into action.

However, avoiding responsibilities until the planets realign is not always realistic. “You might not have the luxury of completely planning things around [the retrograde],” Ridout says, “so I would say if you do choose to move into a new venture, take an extra beat to deeply consider it.”

Similarly, extra precautions should be taken when planning a trip. Don’t assume that a bus will be on time or have a seat open for you. Commuting to work? Be at the subway station 15 minutes earlier than usual. Catching a flight? Triple-check your itinerary and leave plenty of time for traffic. “Traveling can have way more hiccups if you aren’t sufficiently reflective about it,” Ridout says. “Have extra patience.” That’s a worthy New Year’s resolution for any zodiac sign!

Which signs will be affected by Mercury retrograde?

According to Ridout, each sign will feel the impact of these retrogrades in certain ways, but some signs will definitely feel their influence more. “This year, earth signs (Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo) will be most directly affected by the Mercury retrogrades. For the most part, earth signs should experience these retrogrades favorably.”

While earth signs will feel the impact of these retrogrades most, Rideout says the other signs aren’t entirely out of the woods. Sagittarius, Aries, Cancer and Libra will be affected by the two Capricorn retrogrades; Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius will be affected by the Taurus retrograde; and Sagittarius, Pisces and Gemini will be affected by the Virgo retrograde.

What exactly does that mean for these signs? “For the most part, no matter what your sign is, you can look forward to a period of inner reflection and external reminders to take your time to rest,” Ridout explains. Spoil yourself with some self-care gifts, light your favorite zodiac candles, read some inspirational quotes that speak to your sign and simply relax during Mercury in retrograde in 2023—and that’s an order from the stars!

Next, find out what the rarest zodiac sign is.


Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to RD.com covering culture, advice, travel, pets and all things weird and haunted. She is the author of "From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society," which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College.