‘Nerve Wracking' vs 'Nerve Racking': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Shanea Patterson, updated on January 13, 2023

Wondering which is the correct spelling – ‘nerve wracking’ or ‘nerve racking’? And what is the difference between the two? We can clear that up, plus teach you how to use the correct one in a sentence.

Want a quick answer? Here it is:

  • ‘Nerve Racking’ is the original and correct spelling of the phrase, and it means something that makes you very nervous.
  • ‘Nerve Wracking’ is a variant spelling of the phrase that’s widely used around the world.

Both phrases mean the exact same thing and can be used interchangeably.

‘Nerve Wracking’ – Which Spelling is Correct?

Technically, both spellings of the word are correct. However, as you just learned, the version spelled with a ‘w’ is the variant spelling of the word.

But you might see people use them both– and interchangeably. That’s perfectly okay since they’re both widely accepted spellings of the phrase.

‘Nerve-Wracking’ or ‘Nerve-Racking’ – What’s the Difference?

As you just learned, there is no real difference between these two phrases other than their spelling. That means they can’t be considered homophones.

The original spelling is without the 'w.'

Definition and Meaning of 'Nerve-Wracking'

The Merriam-Webster definition of the phrase is: “extremely trying on the nerves.”

Some synonyms of the word include:

  • Agitating
  • Disquieting
  • Anxious
  • Nervous
  • Worrisome
  • Tense
  • Nail-biting
  • Unsettling
  • Creepy
  • Restless
  • Uneasy
  • Distressful

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Nerve-Wracking’ and ‘Nerve Racking’

To pronounce the phrase correctly, use the short guide below.

  • ‘Nerve’ is pronounced nUHRv.
  • ‘Wracking’ is pronounced raking with a short ‘a’ sound. (similar to how ‘cat’ sounds)

How to Use the Phrase in a Sentence

Now that you know what the phrase means and how to pronounce it, let’s look at some examples of how to use it when writing a sentence.

  • It’s so nerve-wracking watching you stack those blocks. I just know one is going to fall on you.
  • It was so nerve-wracking that my boyfriend never hung up his coat or put his shoes away.
  • Waiting for the results of my biopsy was more than a little nerve-wracking.
  • It’s so nerve-wracking being on a holistic I don’t know what I’m allowed to eat.
  • My mother used to say all of us were so nerve-wracking because we never left her alone.
  • This light is so long. Waiting for it to change is so nerve-wracking – I’m going to be late!

Since these phrases mean the same thing, and the only difference is the spelling, and you can use them interchangeably. Swap them out for each other at your own preference.

Final Thoughts on ‘Nerve Wracking’ and ‘Nerve ‘Racking’ 

Now that we know what the phrases mean, how to pronounce them, and how to use them in a sentence, you should be able to form sentences of your own. Remember, it doesn’t matter which spelling of the phrase you use. Either is acceptable. Use the above examples as a guide while writing your own sentences.

If you ever get stuck and need more help, don’t be afraid to come back and refresh your memory.

We’ve also got a ton of content on other confusing words and phrases you might come across while learning the English language.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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