con·​tort kən-ˈtȯrt How to pronounce contort (audio)
contorted; contorting; contorts

transitive verb

: to twist in a violent manner
features contorted with fury

intransitive verb

: to twist into or as if into a strained shape or expression
His face contorted in a grimace of pain.
contortion noun
contortive adjective

Did you know?

Circus contortionists are known for twisting their bodies into pretzels; such contortions tend to be easier for females than for males, and much easier for the young than for the old. When trying to say something uncomfortable or dishonest, people often go through verbal contortions. But when someone else "twists" something you said or did, we usually say instead that they've distorted it.

Choose the Right Synonym for contort

deform, distort, contort, warp means to mar or spoil by or as if by twisting.

deform may imply a change of shape through stress, injury, or accident of growth.

a face deformed by hatred

distort and contort both imply a wrenching from the natural or normal, but contort suggests a more involved twisting and a more grotesque and painful result.

the odd camera angle distorts the figure
disease had contorted her body

warp indicates an uneven shrinking that bends or twists out of a flat plane.

warped floorboards

Examples of contort in a Sentence

His body contorted with pain. The boy contorted his body to squeeze through the gate. Her face was contorted with rage.
Recent Examples on the Web His best friend stood over him, his face contorted with emotion, fingers gripping an assault rifle. Susannah George, Washington Post, 13 Nov. 2023 The anguished look on David’s face, eyes bulging, face contorting in confusion, has become a popular meme. Jason Zinoman, New York Times, 26 Oct. 2023 There is rapid chest heaving, lips and eyebrows are contorted into almost comical angst. Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times, 16 Oct. 2023 Fronting a chorus of Olivia lookalikes (in bubblegum pink tennis fits), the singer contorted through the emotional rollercoaster of loving, losing, and plotting revenge. Madison Bloom, Pitchfork, 13 Sep. 2023 Romney spent years contorting himself for the hard-right elements in his party, eventually becoming the G.O.P.’s standard-bearer during the 2012 election. Michael Luo, The New Yorker, 23 Oct. 2023 Instead of contorting people into rigid poses, Green prioritizes making people feel comfortable on set with her. Michael Waters, The Atlantic, 20 Oct. 2023 Trump’s lawyers contort the second half of the clause beyond recognition to argue for Trump’s immunity. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 6 Oct. 2023 The name relates to the electrical waveforms produced by the heart on an electrocardiogram trace, which contort and writhe. Scott Lafee, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contort.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin contortus, past participle of contorquēre, from com- + torquēre to twist — more at torture entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of contort was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near contort

Cite this Entry

“Contort.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


con·​tort kən-ˈtȯ(ə)rt How to pronounce contort (audio)
: to twist into an unusual appearance or unnatural shape

More from Merriam-Webster on contort

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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