What Does "Retrograde" Mean?

And why is Mercury always in it?

Updated April 20, 2023
Meaning of "retrograde" with example sentence from the article.
    What does retrograde mean
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What do retro and retrograde have in common? They both refer to moving backward: Retro refers to moving to a past time, and retrograde means moving in a backward direction.

Both can also describe some pretty odd phenomena, whether it’s those retro fashions that keep creeping back up or a person’s peculiar behavior during Mercury retrograde.

What Does “Retrograde” Mean?

The most common retrograde meaning is “moving backward.” It comes from the Latin retrogradus (retro meaning “backward,” gradus meaning “stepping”).

As an adjective, retrograde can describe anything that is moving away from its original forward motion.

  • Even though our progress is in retrograde, I think we’ll turn a profit this quarter.
  • John’s father constantly embarrasses him with his retrograde, out-of-touch comments.
  • Venus and Uranus are the only planets that spin retrograde on their axes.
  • In her next book, Martha explores the retrograde effect of living in the past.
  • The Supreme Court’s retrograde decision set American politics back for decades.

Fast Fact

The antonym to retrograde is prograde — “moving forward.”


You’d use prograde to describe an object or movement that continues in the direction it started, much like the word progress.

What Does “Retrograde” Mean in Astronomy?

In astronomy, retrograde refers to the optical illusion of a planet moving backward in the sky. When a planet is in prograde, it moves from west to east in the sky — until Earth passes a slower planet in orbit. 

Because each planet orbits the sun at a different speed, our viewpoint from Earth can make it look like certain planets are moving backward (east to west), when really, Earth has just passed them.

Retrograde periods typically last between a few weeks to a few months, depending on the planet.

What Is “Mercury Retrograde”?

Venus and Mercury, which have shorter orbits than Earth, go into retrograde when they pass Earth.

At 88 days, Mercury has the shortest orbit in the solar system — which is why Mercury retrograde is the most common of the planetary retrograde periods.


What Is “Mercury Retrograde” in Astrology?

In astrology, which focuses on the relationships between planetary positions and human behavior, the period of Mercury retrograde usually indicates that a disruption or “backward” movement of your plans will occur. Astrologists warn not to move forward with new projects or risky ventures during these periods.

If someone is acting odd, your phone is glitchy, or bizarre news has ruined your day, it’s not uncommon to say “Mercury must be in retrograde.”

  • Mercury is in retrograde, so don’t make any big changes to your life right now.
  • Look at all these crazy drivers. Mercury must be in retrograde.
  • I’m sorry — I can’t go out during Mercury retrograde. Too risky.

Fast Fact

You can say both “Mercury retrograde” and “Mercury is in retrograde” when describing this period of time (although “Mercury retrograde” is more popular).

The astrology signs, their meaning, and their dates as explained in the article.

Astrology Signs: Dates, Traits, and Meanings Explained

When Is Mercury Retrograde?

If you’d like to know when Mercury retrograde will occur (either to prepare your telescope or to emotionally prepare), it’s easy to predict based on astronomical patterns. It happens three or four times every calendar year.


Mercury Retrograde Dates


Dec. 28, 2022 - Jan.18


April 21 - May 15


August 23 - Sept.14


Dec. 13 - Jan. 1, 2023


April 1 - April 25


August 4 - August 20


Nov. 25 - Dec. 15


March 14 - April 7


July 17 - August 11


Nov. 9 - Nov. 29


Feb. 25 - March 20


June 29 - July 23


Oct. 24 - Nov. 13


Feb. 9 - March 3


June 10 - July 4


Oct. 7 - Oct. 28


What Does “Mercury in the Microwave” Mean?

A common meme to describe Mercury retrograde is “Mercury in the microwave.”

Social-media users use the phrase to complain about the chaos they experience during Mercury retrograde (which kind of sounds like microwave).

Online, “Mercury in the microwave” essentially means “Something weird is going on.”

You can use it during actual Mercury retrograde periods, or you can use it to describe an odd feeling at any time of the year (in which case you’d say “Mercury must be in the microwave.”)

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