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  Tips for Writers by Brad Hyde (February 18, 2008)

Breaking the Rules! Aggravate My Irritation?

For many years grammarians have claimed that "aggravate" can only mean to "make worse." "Irritate," they argue means "to provoke impatience, anger, or displeasure."

But, hold on just a second: the meaning of "aggravate" as a synonym for "irritate" has been around for four hundred years! In fact, Merriam Webster Dictionary notes that "aggravation" and "aggravating" are almost exclusively used to mean some form of irritation.

Only in the most carefully edited prose do you find "aggravate" used to mean "make worse." In most other uses, particularly for reporting speech or writing dialogue, prefer "aggravate" to "irritate."


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