‘Tortuous’ or ‘torturous’?

The two words tortuous and torturous, although similar and derived from the same Latin root, have different core meanings. Tortuous means ‘full of twists and turns’, as in:

The travellers took a tortuous route.

Whereas torturous means ‘involving or causing torture’, as in:

They had a torturous five days of fitness training.

However, in extended senses tortuous is used to mean ‘excessively lengthy and complex’ and hence may become indistinguishable from torturous: something which is tortuous is often also torturous, as in:

It was a tortuous piece of bureaucratic language .

Their way had been tortuous and very difficult.

This overlap in sense means that tortuous is sometimes used interchangeably with torturous.


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Grammar and usage