View synonyms for tortuous


[ tawr-choo-uhs ]


  1. full of twists, turns, or bends; twisting, winding, or crooked:

    a tortuous path.

    Synonyms: serpentine, sinuous, bent

  2. not direct or straightforward, as in procedure or speech; circuitous:

    tortuous negotiations lasting for months.

    Synonyms: indirect, roundabout, evasive

  3. deceitfully indirect or morally crooked, as proceedings, methods, or policy; devious.


/ ˈtɔːtjʊəs /


  1. twisted or winding

    a tortuous road

  2. devious or cunning

    a tortuous mind

  3. intricate
“Collins English Dictionary — Complete & Unabridged” 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

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Confusables Note

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Derived Forms

  • ˈtortuously, adverb
  • ˈtortuousness, noun
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Other Words From

  • tortu·ous·ly adverb
  • tortu·ous·ness noun
  • non·tortu·ous adjective
  • non·tortu·ous·ly adverb
  • un·tortu·ous adjective
  • un·tortu·ous·ly adverb
  • un·tortu·ous·ness noun
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Word History and Origins

Origin of tortuous1

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English, from Latin tortuōsus, equivalent to tortu(s) “a twisting” ( torquēre “to twist, bend” + -tus suffix of verbal action) + -ōsus adjective suffix; -ous
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Example Sentences

A neuron receives an electrical zap, which travels down its tortuous branches.

The Chicago-based restaurant chain’s entry into the Soviet Union, nearly two years before the fall of the communist state in December 1991, was anything but straightforward and reportedly followed 14 years of tortuous negotiations.

From Time

Failure, as seen in a previously tragic case, could lead to a tortuous death.

Further study of their chemistry revealed a tortuous journey that included several phases of cooling, crystalizing, heating, and remelting.

Wicker’s tortuous justification reflects the difficulty Republicans are having in finding a message to counter the popularity of the legislation.

All of the various things I do I love doing, and occasionally I find them tortuous.

In 2011, after tortuous negotiations, a deal was struck for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.

So why take the tortuous and offensive back-door route to appreciating Wharton?

The Quetta Shura official says the negotiations with the French were tortuous.

Now, negotiations will be much slower and more tortuous, but likely will begin before 2010.

Long, tortuous lines of light showed immense numbers of large fish darting about as if in consternation.

It is in threading these tortuous windings that many a fearless venturer has lost foot-hold and been utterly cast away.

A magnificent view is had from Sparrow Hill; the ascent is made by a steep and tortuous road.

The river gradually became narrower and more tortuous as we approached its head waters.

This defile was extremely tortuous, and was never without water even in the low tides.


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Tortuous Vs. Torturous

What’s the difference between tortuous and torturous?

Tortuous means winding or full of twists and turns, as in a tortuous path, but it can also be used in a more figurative way to mean indirect, convoluted, or even devious. Torturous is used to describe things that are painful or that cause suffering, as if they were a form of torture.

Both words are adjectives, and their spellings are separated by only one letter—making their pronunciations very similar. Making things even more confusing is that there are some situations in which it could make sense to use either word. For example, a piece of writing that’s extremely hard to follow because of how unorganized it is could be described as both tortuous (because it’s so meandering) and torturous (because it’s like torture to read it).

The best way to remember the difference is that torturous has a second r in it, just like its base word, torture. If you want to use the word tortuous in a piece of writing and you’re worried it might be confusing, you might be right! Luckily, there are plenty of alternative words that can be used in the same way, depending on what you mean, such as winding, meandering, circuitous, indirect, and convoluted.

Here’s an example of tortuous and torturous used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: Trying to follow the tortuous arguments in the meandering paper was torturous. 

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between tortuous and torturous.

Quiz yourself on tortuous vs. torturous!

Should tortuous or torturous be used in the following sentence?

The _____ switchback trail snaked up and down the mountainside.