Professional Style

Aggravate vs. Irritate

June 2008
Spot the Error

The photocopier in the accounting department is so aggravating—it never seems to work properly.

The definition of aggravate is to worsen, enlarge, or enhance. So, before there can be an aggravation, there needs to be a preexisting condition or situation. Example:

Caroline’s migraine was aggravated by the blare of her neighbor’s car alarm and the bright sunlight streaming through her bedroom window.

The migraine is the preexisting condition, which is worsened by the car alarm and sunlight.

What’s wanted in the “photocopier” sentence above is irritate, which means to inflame, annoy, arouse, or exasperate.

If we put the two words together, we get the following:

My irritation with the copier put me in a bad mood, which was aggravated when a co-worker spilled coffee on my computer.

Now, that’s just plain infuriating.

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