[ tawr-choo-uhs ]
/ ˈtɔr tʃu əs /
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See synonyms for: tortuous / tortuously / tortuousness on Thesaurus.com


full of twists, turns, or bends; twisting, winding, or crooked: a tortuous path.
not direct or straightforward, as in procedure or speech; circuitous: tortuous negotiations lasting for months.
deceitfully indirect or morally crooked, as proceedings, methods, or policy; devious.



Were you ready for a quiz on this topic? Well, here it is! See how well you can differentiate between the uses of "was" vs. "were" in this quiz.
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“Was” is used for the indicative past tense of “to be,” and “were” is only used for the subjunctive past tense.

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Origin of tortuous

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; see -ous

words often confused with tortuous

See torturous.



tortuous , torturous (see confusables note at torturous)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


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.

Example sentences from the Web for tortuous

British Dictionary definitions for tortuous

/ (ˈtɔːtjʊəs) /


twisted or windinga tortuous road
devious or cunninga tortuous mind

Derived forms of tortuous

tortuously, adverbtortuousness, noun
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

Medical definitions for tortuous

[ tôrchōō-əs ]


Having many turns; winding or twisting.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.