[ tawr-cher-uhs ]
/ ˈtɔr tʃər əs /
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pertaining to, involving, or causing torture or suffering.



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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 torturous

First recorded in 1490–1500; from Anglo-French; Old French tortureus; see torture, -ous

words often confused with torturous

Torturous refers specifically to what involves or causes pain or suffering: prisoners working in the torturous heat; torturous memories of past injustice. Some speakers and writers use torturous for tortuous , especially in the senses “twisting, winding” and “convoluted”: a torturous road; torturous descriptions. Others, however, keep the two adjectives (and their corresponding adverbs) separate in all senses: a tortuous (twisting) road; tortuous (convoluted) descriptions; torturous (painful) treatments.


tor·tur·ous·ly, adverb


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


What’s the difference between torturous and tortuous?

Torturous is used to describe things that are painful or that cause suffering, as if they were a form of torture. 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.

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 torturous and tortuous 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 torturous and tortuous.

Quiz yourself on torturous vs. tortuous!

Should torturous or tortuous be used in the following sentence?

The _____ switchback trail snaked up and down the mountainside.

Example sentences from the Web for torturous