tortuous vs. torturous

What is the difference between tortuous and torturous?

The word tortuous means “repeatedly bending, twisting, or winding; indirect, circuitous, or roundabout; or intricate or complex.” For example:
  • “Jim got sick after driving through those tortuous mountain roads.”
  • “Many students had trouble with the novel’s tortuous plot.”
  • “The lawyer’s tortuous legal arguments failed to convince the jury.”
Torturous, on the other hand, means “of or related to torture; full of pain or suffering,” as in:
  • “Her torturous experiences with the company prompted her to go out on her own.”
  • “The dictator has been accused of establishing an oppressive regime through torturous methods.”
Perhaps because of a more figurative application of the word torture, torturous can also be used to describe something that is strained, twisting, or overly complex (since this complexity or circuitousness could be thought of as painful to experience). Some language authorities dispute this shared meaning, though, so it is safer overall (especially in more formal writing) to reserve torturous for when you mean “of, causing, or relating to torture,” and tortuous for when you mean “twisting, complex, devious, or circuitous.”
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