Easily Confused Words: Aggravate vs. Aggregate

Aggravated and Aggregate are easily confused words. The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway. If you left a word or words out, it can’t tell you that either.

Autocorrect also tries,but often fails. It attempts to anticipate what word you want based on the first few letters you’ve typed in. But words sharing letters doesn’t mean they share meaning. Aggravate and aggregate is a great example of a possible autocorrect slip-up.

Aggravate is a verb in the past tense, it means to get a person upset, to irritate, or to offend. When a person gets aggravated, it indicates someone isn’t just mad at the present moment, it runs deeper than that. Perhaps they are mad that this event has happened before, it’s happened repeatedly from the same person, or it’s one action he/she can’t tolerate no matter how little or often it happens, like the proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard.

In criminal justice, when a crime is preceded by aggravated, such as “aggravated assault”, it means there was a higher degree of injury inflicted. Perhaps the victim and the perpetrator knew each other before the crime happened, perhaps this was a crime of passion, or there was some payback for injury involved.

Aggregate relates to assembling a list or collection or the list created by collecting. Aggregrate has multiple forms but they all revolve around the “collect” theme.

  • Aggregate the verb means to collect items based on a theme or keyword. For example, on the internet, a site that gets news from multiple sources and presents it all on one page for easy reading is an aggregating that information.
  • Aggregate the noun means the collection, cluster, or list created via aggregating.
  • Aggregate the adjective form quantifies the collection or list, it modifies a noun like “amount.”

The following story uses both words correctly:

Agatha was asked to aggregate asters and anemones for an Armistice Day flower centerpiece. She did it gladly, but unfortunately, these blooms aggravated her allergies. 

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