ex·ac·er·bate | \ ig-ˈza-sər-ˌbāt \
exacerbated; exacerbating

Definition of exacerbate 

transitive verb

: to make more violent, bitter, or severe The new law only exacerbates the problem.

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Other words from exacerbate

exacerbation \ig-ˌza-sər-ˈbā-shən \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for exacerbate


aggravate, complicate, worsen


allay, alleviate, assuage, ease, help, mitigate, relieve

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exacerbate vs. exasperate

Exacerbate is frequently confused with exasperate, and with good reason. Not only do these words resemble one another in spelling and pronunciation, they also at one time held exceedingly similar meanings. Exasperate is today most commonly used as a synonym of annoy, but for several hundred years it also had the meanings “to make more grievous” and “to make harsh or harsher.” Exacerbate is now the more common choice of these two words when one seeks to indicate that something is becoming increasingly bitter, violent, or unpleasant. It comes in part from the Latin word acer, meaning “sharp,” whereas exasperate is from asper, the Latin word for “rough.”

Did You Know?

Make it a point to know that the Latin adjective acer, meaning "sharp," forms the basis of a number of words that have come into English. The words acerbic ("having a bitter temper or sour mood"), acrid ("having a sharp taste or odor"), and acrimony ("a harsh manner or disposition") are just the tip of the iceberg. First appearing in English in the 17th century, exacerbate derives from the Latin prefix ex-, which means "out of" or "outside," and acerbus, which means "harsh" or "bitter" and comes from acer. Just as pouring salt in a wound worsens pain, things that exacerbate can cause a situation to go from bad to worse. A pointed insult, for example, might exacerbate tensions between two rivals.

Examples of exacerbate in a Sentence

The declining retirement security faced by growing numbers of Americans is being exacerbated by increasing longevity and quickly rising health care costs. —Jeff Madrick, New York Review of Books, 20 Mar. 2008 … the sway that pack journalism holds on the Beltway press corps persists. The Crowd is never so influential as in the ever-lengthening season of presidential campaigns. The feverish obsessions of the blogosphere have only exacerbated the phenomenon: Now the herd just turns faster in pursuit of some ginned-up "controversy" or faux scandal. Editor & Publisher, April 2007 The proposed factory shutdown would only exacerbate our unemployment problems. His angry comments have exacerbated tensions in the negotiation process.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The rules, which would potentially exacerbate tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, could be announced by the end of the week, people familiar with the administration’s plans told The Wall Street Journal. Akane Otani, WSJ, "U.S. Treasurys Strengthen as Trade Tensions Rise," 25 June 2018 The social network has now responded in the affirmative, at least regarding Huawei, exacerbating the already-high tension between Facebook and U.S. lawmakers. David Meyer, Fortune, "Facebook Now Admits It Also Shared Your Data with Chinese Phone Maker Huawei," 6 June 2018 Further exacerbating tensions between the two NATO allies has been the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Christian pastor whose arrest in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt has become a key issue for many in Congress. Sean Savage, Jewish Journal, "Why is Washington seeking to block the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey?," 4 June 2018 Instead, cultural appropriation seemed to expand in definition to the point of absurdity; in turn, these instances became platforms that exacerbated racial tensions. Connie Wang, refinery29.com, "I’ve Written About Cultural Appropriation For 10 Years. Here’s What I Got Wrong.," 24 May 2018 The move comes amid rising fears that Russia is seeking to destabilize Poland and exacerbate Polish-Ukrainian tensions that would leave Ukraine isolated. Fox News, "Poland moves against Russians engaged in 'hybrid' activities," 17 May 2018 Freeman and others said Trump administration policies risk weakening the US or exacerbating tensions between the countries. Scott Thurm, WIRED, "Chinese-American Elites Lament a Brewing Trade War," 6 May 2018 The imposition of tariffs will most likely exacerbate trade tensions with other nations, including China, and could result in an escalation of retaliatory trade measures against imports from the United States. Ana Swanson And Brad Plumer, New York Times, "Trump Slaps Steep Tariffs on Foreign Washing Machines and Solar Products," 22 Jan. 2018 Bishop’s continual anxiety and worry was exacerbated by her feelings of isolation. Washington Post, "Opioid addiction and overdoses in children devastate their parents," 30 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'exacerbate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of exacerbate

1660, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for exacerbate

borrowed from Latin exacerbātus, past participle of exacerbāre "to irritate, exasperate, make worse," from ex- ex- entry 1 + acerbāre "to make bitter, make worse," verbal derivative of acerbus "acid, bitter, bitterly hostile, distressing" — more at acerb

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Last Updated

6 Sep 2018

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The first known use of exacerbate was in 1660

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More Definitions for exacerbate



English Language Learners Definition of exacerbate

: to make (a bad situation, a problem, etc.) worse


transitive verb
ex·ac·er·bate | \ ig-ˈzas-ər-ˌbāt \
exacerbated; exacerbating

Medical Definition of exacerbate 

: to cause (a disease or its symptoms) to become more severe her condition was exacerbated by lack of care

Other words from exacerbate

exacerbation \-ˌzas-ər-ˈbā-shən \ noun

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Comments on exacerbate

What made you want to look up exacerbate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make amends

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