‘Irritate’ versus ‘Aggravate’: there IS a Difference

By | August 30, 2020

Irritated cat.jpg

I was reading the online news today, when I came across the following sentence.

‘The fact that Floyd was in handcuffs aggravates the circumstances.’

This sentence made me think about the difference between: ‘irritate’ and ‘aggravate’. The second word is used correctly in the above sentence, but many native speakers of English often mix up these words, using them interchangeably. Look at the above picture of the cat. Does this animal look ‘irritated’ or ‘aggravated’? Answer: it looks irritated‘Irritate’ means to cause a bad reaction, to disturb, to annoy. ‘Aggravate’ means to make something worse. So, for example, you …

  • aggravate the situation, the problem, or the injury
  • irritate somebody by talking too loudly.

But here is a comment I read from ‘dictionary.com’.

If you use aggravate to mean ‘annoy’, no one will notice. That battle has been lost in all but the most formal writing. 

Yes, sadly, as I said before, many native speakers don’t seem to realise the difference between these words. However, you could show your knowledge, education, and intelligence by using them correctly, right?

Author: Andrew

Andrew Guilfoyle Cambridge CELTA, Cambridge DELTA, Cambridge CELTA teacher-trainer, M.Ed