“Nerve-racking” is the original and correct spelling of this phrase, which describes something that makes you extremely nervous.“Nerve-wracking” is a widely-used và well-established variant spelling. Many editors & usage dictionaries find it acceptable, but purists & prescriptivists consider it an error.

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When something is making you feel very nervous, you can say it’s nerve-wracking, even though nerve-racking might be the more appropriate choice. The verbs wraông chồng and raông chồng have sầu different meanings, but they both carry ideas of destruction that seem to lớn fit the meaning of the phrase. Plus, wrack & raông chồng have been used interchangeably in other phrases as well. Major dictionaries lượt thích the OED và Merriam-Webster usually menu the spelling with the “w” as a variant of the spelling without it.
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Nerve-Wracking or Nerve-Racking?

We have two phrases—nerve-wracking and nerve-racking. Both phrases are used as adjectives when we want lớn describe something that makes us feel anxious, nervous, or tense. They have sầu the “nerve” part in comtháng, but “wracking” và “racking” are not the same word. Or are they?


Wracking comes from the verb “wrack,” which means to lớn ruin, destroy, or cause damage to lớn something—it’s a cthua thảm synonym of the word wrechồng. It’s mostly archaic now, so you’re not likely lớn come across it in modern writing.

Racking, on the other hvà, comes from the verb “raông chồng,” which has multiple meanings. It can mean, for instance, to lớn gather or accumulate something:

He racked up a lot of money from tips working as a concierge.

It can also mean khổng lồ put something on a rachồng in order lớn display it:

We racked the dresses in preparation for the grand opening.

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But finally, it can also mean lớn torture, or khổng lồ cause pain in general. “The rack” was the name of a torture device in medieval Britain, and so to raông chồng something meant khổng lồ put it on the raông xã for torture:

As you can see, both wrachồng and rachồng convey ideas of unpleasantness và destruction. They are also pronounced the same, which only adds to the confusion in phrases lượt thích the one we’re looking at here—nerve-wracking. This confusion became so widespread that the dictionaries caught onto it và started including nerve-wracking as a variant spelling for nerve-racking.

Synonyms for Nerve-Racking

If you want to avoid writing the phrase nerve-wracking, with or without the “w,” you can use one of its synonyms. You can say, for example, that something is trying or difficult. But you can also use words like distressing or daunting. Stressful might also be a good synonym; even annoying might work. But nerve-racking implies a real intensity of feeling, so the synonyms you really want might be harrowing or gut-wrenching.

Racking My Brain vs. Wracking My Brain

There’s one other common phrase that causes the same cấp độ of confusion: racking (one’s) brain. The correct & original spelling is racking my brain. But the variant wracking my brain has become so well established by now that only strict traditionalists consider it a mistake. So, if you want to be perfectly correct, use nerve-racking và racking my brain.