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Is a Fly Exacerbating or Exasperating?

The answer to the question posed in the title depends on what you are trying to say. Most of the time a fly is exasperating. Exasperating means annoying, as anyone who has tried to shoe away a relentless fly well knows.

Exacerbating, on the other hand, means to make worse or intensify.

As Maria pored over the 80-line GRE passage on quantum physics, a fly buzzed in her ear, exacerbating the situation.

Usage Note

We exacerbate a situation or condition. We can also exacerbate pain. We don’t, however, exacerbate a person, much like we can exasperate a person.


His little brother always exasperated her while she tried to do her work.


Her brother exacerbated her so she couldn’t study.



(A) persuade

(B) intensify

(C) reinvigorate

(D) ameliorate

(E) exhaust

Ans: (D). Ameliorate means to improve a condition.



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