Aerobic vs. Anaerobic – What’s the Difference?

Depending on your profession, you may sometimes have to write about complex scientific topics. If you are a student, you will occasionally have to write about a variety of complex topics you don’t fully understand.

Aerobic and anaerobic describe opposite biological concepts. Still, some writers get them confused. If you were submitting a scientific article for peer review, you would want to make sure you chose the correct word.

Continue reading for an explanation of these terms.

What is the Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic?

In this article, I will compare aerobic vs. anaerobic. I will use each of these words in at least one sentence as an example.

Then, at the end, I will show you a handy memory tool that will help you choose either aerobic or anaerobic for your own writing.

When to Use Aerobic

aerobic versus anaerobic meaningWhat does aerobic mean? Aerobic is an adjective. In biology, aerobic means using oxygen.

I have given you several examples below,

  • “Aerobic organisms can only survive in an oxygen-rich environment,” said the biology professor.
  • One way to generate energy is through an aerobic process.

Aerobic can also refer to a type of exercise that stimulates increased breathing.

Here are three more examples,

  • “I have to leave by 7:30 to get to my aerobics class!” said Nichole.
  • As part of this limited-time offer, you can now own the box set of all six aerobic dance DVDs for the low, low price of $349.99!
  • She joined a gym and tried the treadmill, but soon grew bored—until one day she dropped into an aerobics class. –The Wall Street Journal

When to Use Anaerobic

Definition of anaerobic definition and definition of aerobic definitionWhat does anaerobic mean? In English, the prefix an- is a negative. Thus, anaerobic is the opposite of aerobic– it means not using oxygen. This term appears only rarely outside of the context of biology.

Nonetheless, here are some examples,

  • Some microorganisms are capable of anaerobic cellular respiration, which means they can survive in very harsh conditions.
  • A crucial part of the nitrogen cycle depends on anaerobic microbial processes.
  • But anaerobic digestion, in which food is broken down by microbes inside tall, airtight silos, has a real shot at scaling near densely populated areas. –The New York Times

Though it seems counterintuitive, there is such a thing as anaerobic exercise. Some very intense activities involve muscular activity that produces energy without consuming oxygen. For more information on this type of exercise, consult a fitness trainer.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define anaerobic and define aerobicThough these two words appear very similar at first glance, they refer to directly opposite concepts in biology.

These are complex terms, and remembering the difference between them can be difficult, so here is a helpful trick to remember anaerobic vs. aerobic.

Remember that when you participate in aerobic exercise, your breathing becomes more intense. Since aerobic respiration requires oxygen, and humans breath oxygen, you can link aerobic and oxygen in your mind.


Is it aerobic or anaerobic? Aerobic and anaerobic refer to biological processes that use oxygen and do not use oxygen, respectively. They can both also refer to types of physical exercise.

  • Aerobic refers to a process that uses oxygen.
  • Anaerobic refers to a process that does not use oxygen.

Aerobic exercise increases the intensity of breathing, which, for humans, requires oxygen. By linking oxygen and aerobic together through exercise, you will always know when to use this term.

Writing about complex ideas can be difficult if you aren’t sure which word to use. By using this site as a resource, you can learn the difference between confusing words and become a stronger, more accurate writer.

If you ever need a refresher on anaerobic or aerobic exercises, you can check back on this site.