Word Fact: What Is the Difference Between Torturous and Tortuous?


Separated by just one pesky letter, these two similar-sounding adjectives can be torturous to keep straight. Or is it tortuous? Let’s take a look at the definitions and applications of each.

Both of these terms come from the Latin verb torquēre meaning “to twist.” This derivation is easy to detect in the meaning of tortuous, defined as “full of twists, turns, or bends.” Expanding on this foundation, tortuous can also mean “not direct or straightforward, as in procedure or speech,” or “deceitfully indirect or morally crooked.”

The theme of twisting takes a takes a grim turn in the word torturous, which means “pertaining to, involving, or causing torture or suffering.”

The differences between these two terms may seem straightforward, but the issue gets muddied when we encounter instances in which both words can be effectively applied. A very long and winding road, for instance, might be described as tortuous for its twists and turns. The same road might also be hyperbolically described as torturous for the discomfort or fatigue it causes those who travel it.

To complicate matters, there’s also tortious, an adjective from the legal lexicon that means “of the nature of or pertaining to a tort.” This term can also be traced back to the Latin torquēre by way of the word tort, which is “a wrongful act that results in injury to another’s person, property, reputation, or the like, and for which the injured party is entitled to compensation.”

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  1. Cool Chick -  December 11, 2014 - 2:37 pm

    Cheese is yummy.

    • You -  April 17, 2015 - 8:10 am

      Nobody cares, go back to your dark corner where nobody can see you and cry yourself to sleep, like you do every night.

  2. IDontEvenMeanItJustBored -  November 15, 2014 - 11:22 am

    Examples in reference to Dictionary.com:
    Tortuous is the action that was necessary to squeeze out this decaying nadir of the internet.
    Torturous is the adjective committed onto those who view it and encounter it’s many technical and grammatical errors.

    Also, this website is stale poop.

  3. Daniel Uganda -  November 14, 2014 - 10:53 pm


  4. Daniel Uganda -  November 14, 2014 - 10:52 pm

    I Would Rather Want Most Of Things I Need In Private To Be Sent To My EMail Bt How?

  5. Satish -  October 28, 2014 - 6:31 pm

    Thanks for the information and I will try to know such kind of words to improve my vocabulary.

  6. Mary Wilbur -  October 18, 2014 - 1:11 pm

    This is a very interesting as well as useful blog. Thank you.

  7. Chelsea -  October 17, 2014 - 10:47 am

    Interesting, I did not know the word “tortuous” before. I think you meant “winding” where you typed “windy,” unless you indeed meant that the road is rather gusty, and therefore torturous (but not tortuous).

  8. john -  October 16, 2014 - 5:14 pm

    You could add “statue” and “stature.”

  9. Bill -  October 16, 2014 - 8:33 am

    Maybe I’m not awake well enough. Answer is not clear; too cute by half. Elucidation, not confusion, should be the goal.

    • PumaCat -  January 26, 2015 - 11:08 pm

      I don’t think your brain is still asleep, as the answer isn’t really clear to me either. Or maybe my brain is asleep, even though I feel really awake.

  10. Khadre -  October 14, 2014 - 1:50 pm

    can i know who are you?

  11. Isabelle -  October 13, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    How do I submit a question to you (the writer/s of the dictionary.com blog)? I would rather submit by English question to you privately, instead of having my name associated with it. Thank you.

    • Oni -  October 17, 2014 - 9:14 am

      Make up a different name? That’s the great thing about the internet.


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