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Exasperate vs. Exacerbate — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Urooj Arif — Updated on March 8, 2024
Exasperate means to irritate intensely, while exacerbate means to worsen a situation.
Exasperate vs. Exacerbate — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Exasperate and Exacerbate


Key Differences

Exasperate refers to the act of annoying or irritating someone to a high degree, often leading to frustration or anger. It's typically used in the context of personal interactions or situations. On the other hand, exacerbate is used to describe making an already bad situation, condition, or problem worse, particularly in terms of severity or intensity.
The term exasperate is often applied in situations involving personal feelings or reactions, focusing on the emotional or psychological impact on an individual. Exacerbate, however, is generally used in broader contexts, including health, environmental issues, and social problems, indicating an increase in the negative aspects of a situation.
While exasperate is about the escalation of negative feelings or responses in people, exacerbate relates more to the escalation of negative states or conditions of things or situations. This distinction highlights how the former is more about personal impact, whereas the latter is about situational or condition-based impact.
Using "exasperate" correctly involves situations where the emphasis is on the emotional or mental state being negatively affected, such as in relationships or personal interactions. In contrast, "exacerbate" is appropriately used when discussing issues like diseases, environmental problems, or social conflicts, where the focus is on the worsening of the condition or situation.
The nuances of exasperate and exacerbate are important in communication, as misusing them can lead to misunderstandings. For example, saying someone's actions "exasperated" a financial problem would be incorrect; the correct term would be "exacerbated," as it refers to the worsening of the problem, not the irritation of an individual.

Comparison Chart


To irritate or annoy intensely.
To worsen or increase the severity of a situation.


Often used in personal interactions.
Applied to situations, conditions, or problems.


Emotional or psychological impact on individuals.
Impact on the state or condition of things.

Usage Example

His constant lateness exasperated his friends.
Pollution can exacerbate respiratory problems.

Misuse Example

Incorrect: He exasperated the injury by walking on it.
Incorrect: She exacerbated her friend's anger.

Compare with Definitions


To intensely irritate or frustrate someone.
The delay in the project schedule exasperated the team leader.


To make a bad situation or condition worse.
Ignoring the advice of experts can exacerbate the crisis.


Often results in feelings of anger or annoyance.
His dismissive attitude exasperated his colleagues.


Often used in medical, environmental, and social contexts.
Smoking can exacerbate asthma symptoms.


Involves an emotional response to a provoking situation.
The lack of clear communication exasperated the confusion among team members.


Involves the worsening of an existing negative state.
Poor financial decisions exacerbated the company's debts.


Can lead to strained relationships or tensions.
Persistent misunderstandings exasperated their friendship.


Implies an increase in the intensity or severity of something.
Harsh weather conditions exacerbated the plight of the homeless.


Common in everyday personal and professional interactions.
The constant noise from the construction site exasperated the residents.


Can relate to the escalation of conflicts or problems.
Misinformation can exacerbate public panic during emergencies.


Irritate and frustrate (someone) intensely
This futile process exasperates prison officers


Make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse
the exorbitant cost of land in urban areas only exacerbated the problem
The strong pound has exacerbated the situation by making it much harder for UK companies to compete on price


To make very angry or impatient; annoy greatly.


To increase the severity, violence, or bitterness of; aggravate
A speech that exacerbated racial tensions.
A heavy rainfall that exacerbated the flood problems.


To increase the gravity or intensity of
"a scene ... that exasperates his rose fever and makes him sneeze" (Samuel Beckett).


(transitive) To make worse (a problem, bad situation, negative feeling, etc.); aggravate.
The proposed shutdown would exacerbate unemployment problems.


To tax the patience of; irk, frustrate, vex, provoke, annoy; to make angry.


To render more violent or bitter; to irritate; to exasperate; to imbitter, as passions or disease.


(obsolete) exasperated; embittered.


Make worse;
This drug aggravates the pain


Exasperated; imbittered.
Like swallows which the exasperate dying yearSets spinning.


Exasperate or irritate


To irritate in a high degree; to provoke; to enrage; to excite or to inflame the anger of; as, to exasperate a person or his feelings.
To exsasperate them against the king of France.


To make grievous, or more grievous or malignant; to aggravate; to imbitter; as, to exasperate enmity.
To exasperate the ways of death.


Exasperate or irritate


Make furious


Make worse;
This drug aggravates the pain

Common Curiosities

Can a person be exasperated by an inanimate object?

Yes, people can feel exasperated by objects if their malfunction or design leads to frustration, though the term is more commonly used in relation to interactions with other people or situations.

Can a situation be exasperated?

The more appropriate term for a situation becoming worse is "exacerbated." "Exasperated" is best used when referring to a person's emotional state being negatively affected.

Is exasperate only applicable to human emotions?

While "exasperate" is most commonly used in relation to human emotions and reactions, it can also be applied metaphorically to situations or entities that cause frustration or annoyance.

Is it possible to exasperate a positive feeling?

"Exasperate" is generally used in the context of negative feelings like irritation or frustration, not for intensifying positive feelings.

Can exacerbate have a positive connotation?

"Exacerbate" typically has a negative connotation, as it implies worsening a condition or situation. It's rarely, if ever, used in a positive context.

Can environmental factors be exasperated?

Environmental factors can be "exacerbated," such as when pollution worsens air quality, not "exasperated," which refers to irritation.

Can a disease be exasperated?

The correct term for the worsening of a disease is "exacerbated," not "exasperated," which refers to irritation or frustration.

Are exasperate and exacerbate interchangeable?

No, they are not interchangeable as they have distinct meanings; exasperate relates to irritation and annoyance, while exacerbate refers to making a situation worse.

Can lack of action exacerbate a situation?

Yes, inaction can exacerbate a situation by allowing it to worsen over time without intervention.

Can actions exacerbate emotions?

Actions can indirectly exacerbate emotions if they worsen a situation that leads to increased emotional distress, but "exasperate" is the direct term for causing irritation or annoyance.

How can I remember the difference between exasperate and exacerbate?

Associate "exasperate" with "exasperation" or irritation in personal contexts, and "exacerbate" with "worsening" a situation or condition.

Can technology exacerbate social isolation?

Yes, technology can exacerbate social isolation if it leads to decreased face-to-face interactions and increased reliance on digital communication.

Can a solution exacerbate a problem?

Yes, a poorly thought-out solution can inadvertently exacerbate a problem by increasing its severity or creating new issues.

Are there any situations where both exasperate and exacerbate could be used?

While their meanings are distinct, in a complex situation involving both personal frustration and worsening conditions, both terms might apply to different aspects of the situation.

How do I use exasperate and exacerbate correctly in writing?

Use "exasperate" to describe intense irritation or frustration in personal contexts, and "exacerbate" when referring to the worsening of a situation, condition, or problem.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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