Exacerbate vs exasperate

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Exacerbate and exasperate are two words that sound and look similar, but have very different meanings. We will look at the definitions of exacerbate and exasperate, where these two words come from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Exacerbate means to make a bad situation worse, to intensify suffering or pain, to aggravate a problem, to irritate. The word exacerbate is derived from the Latin verb exacerbare, which means to provoke or irritate. Exacerbate is a transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object, most probably coined as a back-formation from the noun exacerbation. Related words are exacerbates, exacerbated, exacerbating, exacerbation.

Exasperate means to infuriate, to cause overwhelming irritation. The word exasperate evolved from the Latin word exasperare, which means to irritate or anger. Exasperate is also a transitive verb, related words are exasperates, exasperated, exasperating, exasperation. It is probably the definition of irritation that causes the confusion between the words exacerbate and exasperate. Exacerbate is used when describing a situation and refers to making an already bad situation worse. Exasperate refers to the emotional state of a person.


The unrest that quickly escalated in Charlotte could be repeated in any U.S. city, and the N.C. law that took effect Saturday will only exacerbate future events. (The Charlotte Observer)

China’s defense ministry said yesterday it was paying close attention to this week’s navy drills between the United States and South Korea, and urged them to exercise restraint and not exacerbate regional tensions. (The Hong Kong Standard)

His critique will exasperate those at the ECB and the International Monetary Fund who inherited the crisis, and had to deal with a fast-moving and terrifying situation. (The Australian Financial Review)