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Disturbing vs. Irritating

Ask Teacher: Disturbing vs. Irritating
Disturbing vs. Irritating
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question about the difference between “disturbing” and “irritating.”


Hi VOA Learning English,

My name is Hamza, and I am from Algeria. I have been learning English using your programs for several years. My question is: What is the difference between the words “disturbing” and “irritating?”

Thank you,



Dear Hamza,

Thank you for writing to us. Both of these adjectives come from verbs. Both words can describe being upset or upsetting someone. But the emotions these words describe can be quite different. Let’s look at each word more closely so we can identify the emotions behind them.

Let’s start with “disturbing.”

“Disturbing” is an adjective that comes from the verb “disturb.” It means that something causes worry or upsets you.

Methane gasses are disturbing because they are said to trap more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

If something is disturbing, it bothers you, and makes you feel bad or is creepy.

I hate watching horror movies because they are so disturbing.

Scene from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Scene from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

As a verb, “disturb” means to bother or interrupt someone so that they become upset by your actions.

Please be quiet in the library so you don’t disturb others.

And lastly, as a verb, “disturb” means to change something’s position, shape or to put it in disorder.

My sister disturbed my clothes when she borrowed a shirt from my closet. They were a mess the next day!

Let’s move onto “irritating.”

Just like “disturbing,” “irritating” is an adjective that comes from a verb. It can also describe something that makes you upset. But instead of feelings of worry or fear, something that is “irritating” causes you to feel annoyed or frustrated.

Bugs flying near my head are irritating.

FILE - An Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) flies on September 14, 2019 in Loue, northwestern France. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP)
FILE - An Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) flies on September 14, 2019 in Loue, northwestern France. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP)

My next-door neighbor is so loud. Her voice is irritating.

“Irritate” as a verb can mean “to annoy,” but it also has a medical meaning “to cause itching or soreness.”

Devan has allergies which always irritate her eyes making her cry and sneeze.

Please let us know if these explanations and examples have helped you!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

creepy adj. annoyingly unpleasant

annoy –v. to cause someone to get a little angry or bothered

frustrated – adj. discouraged, or upset because of being unable to do or complete something

allergies n. the body’s reaction to something that it is sensitive to


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