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.
Recent Examples on the WebMartinez’s approach has gained the support of a few mobility advocates who fear pushing forward the initiative without a plan could exacerbate inequity in the city.
Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Times, 10 Aug. 2022 Republicans, who unanimously opposed the bill in the Senate, say the legislation could exacerbate inflation.
Andrew Duehren, WSJ, 10 Aug. 2022 The report details concerns that Ring could exacerbate police bias against Black and brown communities and notes a lack of transparency around how Neighbors works.
Wired, 7 Aug. 2022 Any conflict in Taiwan, which dominates the semiconductor industry, could exacerbate the global shortage of computer chips, which are vital components for virtually all modern electronics.
Laura He, CNN, 4 Aug. 2022 Manchin pulled out of a similar deal earlier this month, citing concerns that new climate spending could exacerbate the ongoing inflation crisis.
Grayson Quay, The Week, 27 July 2022 An easier bar to clear for a prosecution of a prescriber could only exacerbate that, advocates argued.
Andrew Joseph, STAT, 28 June 2022 Newness was the very thing some people feared about the COVID vaccines to begin with, Wood pointed out; highlighting an unfamiliar version of an already foreign-seeming product could exacerbate those concerns.
Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic, 28 June 2022 Officials worry that hot, dry, windy conditions could exacerbate the blazes as the week goes on.
Tess Williams, Anchorage Daily News, 28 June 2022 See More
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.
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