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Torturous vs. tortuous

Torturous, with two r’s, means of, related to, or causing torture. It’s easy to remember because it contains the word torture. Tortuous means having or marked by repeated turns or bends. Some of its synonyms are twisted, complex, winding, and complicated.

Some tortuous things might feel torturous, and some torturous things involve tortuous twisting or straining, and in these senses the words share common ground, but they are far from interchangeable. Torturous refers to the pain or agony involved in something, and tortuous emphasizes its twisting or complex nature.

A third similar word, tortious, is sometimes confused with tortuous. Tortious means of or relating to tort (i.e. damage, injury, or a wrongful act done willfully, negligently, or in circumstances involving liability).


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Examples

Delphine LaLaurie and her husband Leonard, performed nightmarish and torturous surgery on their slaves in their Royal Street house in the 1830’s. [South Dakota Politics]

Investors fear Spain has not learnt the lessons of the tortuous restructuring of banks in Ireland … [Financial Times]

He made many mistakes and rendered his final journey torturous because he and his colleagues hauled their own sledges … [Telegraph]

They have forged ahead on this tortuous journey to get their dream bookstore built. [Valley Sun]

Few things in life are more torturous than losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease. [Star News Online]

But the path to the referendum promises to be tortuous. [New York Times]

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