by Liz Walter
Last month I wrote about words and phrases for talking about improvement. This post covers the opposite: talking about things getting worse. Get worse is the most common way of expressing this idea:
The weather seems to be getting worse.
Her health deteriorated rapidly.
There was a gradual deterioration in teaching standards.
The verb worsen is also formal. Unlike deteriorate, which is only intransitive, worsen can be intransitive or transitive:
The pain in my stomach began to worsen.
Jack’s involvement is likely to worsen the situation.
More informally, we use the idiom go downhill:
This hotel has really gone downhill since the last time I stayed here.
The informal idiom go to the dogs is used when something (such as a country or an organization) has become much worse than it was in the past:
This company has gone to the dogs since Laura left.
We say very informally that something has gone to pot when it has not been cared for or worked on:
My training schedule for the marathon has completely gone to pot.
Another phrase that means that a person, thing or place is in a much worse state than before is to say that someone or something is not half the (thing) it/he/she used to be:
This resort’s not half the place it used to be.
We sometimes describe an action or event that causes something to become worse as a step backwards (UK) or a backward step (though in the US, this phrase is a step backward), or – more formally – a retrograde step:
We believe that these measures are a backward step for democracy.
They see price caps as a retrograde step for their business.
The formal verb exacerbate means to make an already bad situation even worse:
The chemicals exacerbated my skin condition.
Another phrase that talks about a bad situation becoming even worse is to make matters worse:
I had locked myself out and, to make matters worse, I didn’t have a phone.
The phrase add fuel to the fire also describes making a bad or difficult situation worse:
With many calling for his resignation, these latest accusations only add fuel to the fire.
The meeting descended into chaos.
The buildings have lapsed into a state of disrepair.
I hope that all these ways of talking about things getting worse will have the opposite effect on your English!