Tortuous or Torturous?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Tortuous" and "Torturous"?

"Tortuous" and "torturous" are easy to confuse because they look so similar. This is no coincidence. "Tortuous" and "torturous" share the same Late Latin root tortura (a twisting, writhing).
  • "Tortuous" means "with many twists and turns," like a country road or the plot of a book. For example:
    • It was difficult to drive on the tortuous road.
  • "Torturous" means "involving or causing torture, pain, or suffering." For example:
    • The 14-hour flight to Sydney was torturous.
Click to hear how "tortuous" and "torturous" are pronounced:

tortuous or torturous?


The adjective "tortuous" describes something with repeated twists or turns.

Example sentences with "tortuous":
  • In cities like Athens, poor houses lined narrow and tortuous streets in spite of luxurious public buildings. correct tick (Bishop and politician Stephen Gardiner)
  • The path to the referendum promises to be tortuous. correct tick (New York Times)


The adjective "torturous" describes something that involves suffering or pain.

Example sentences with "torturous":
  • Jealousy would be far less torturous if we understood that love is a passion entirely unrelated to our merits. correct tick (Poet Paul Eldridge)
  • Life's experiences, whether they be torturous or excruciatingly wonderful, season you somehow and you learn from them. correct tick (Actor Mel Gibson)

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