ten·​u·​ous ˈten-yə-wəs How to pronounce tenuous (audio)
: having little substance or strength : flimsy, weak
tenuous influences
: shaky sense 2a
tenuous reasons
: not thick : slender
a tenuous rope
: not dense : rare
a tenuous fluid
tenuously adverb
tenuousness noun

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What is the Definition of tenuous?

Something tenuous has been stretched thin and might break at any time. A person with a tenuous hold on his sanity should be watched carefully. If a business is only tenuously surviving, it will probably go bankrupt in the next recession. If there seems to be only a tenuous connection between two crimes, it means the investigators have more work to do.

Choose the Right Synonym for tenuous

thin, slender, slim, slight, tenuous mean not thick, broad, abundant, or dense.

thin implies comparatively little extension between surfaces or in diameter, or it may imply lack of substance, richness, or abundance.

thin wire
a thin soup

slender implies leanness or spareness often with grace and good proportion.

the slender legs of a Sheraton chair

slim applies to slenderness that suggests fragility or scantiness.

a slim volume of poetry
a slim chance

slight implies smallness as well as thinness.

a slight build

tenuous implies extreme thinness, sheerness, or lack of substance and firmness.

a tenuous thread

Examples of tenuous in a Sentence

What is also true is that they, and I, were lucky, through genes or fate, to surge through the maelstrom of dashed hope and denied opportunity to grasp a tenuous piece of the American Dream. Anthony Walton, Lure and Loathing, 1993
After the end of the crusading period, however relations between East and West had grown tenuous Albert Hourani, Islam in European Thought, 1991
The authors follow researchers as they use the slimmest leads and the most tenuous connections to track the genes for Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia and a host of other physical and mental miseries. Natalie Angier, New York Times Book Review, 12 Aug. 1990
He has a tenuous grasp on reality. The local theater has had a tenuous existence in recent years. He could demonstrate only a tenuous claim to ownership. See More
Recent Examples on the Web With the passing of a century, however, the connection to Europe held by many Turks became increasingly tenuous. Soner Cagaptay, Foreign Affairs, 19 Feb. 2024 But to some analysts, Mr. Navalny’s death is a reminder that Mr. Putin’s power may be more tenuous than meets the eye. Anton Troianovski, New York Times, 17 Feb. 2024 Amid a tenuous time in Wilson’s mental health, the singer came under the controversial care of psychologist Eugene Landy, who at first helped return Wilson to productivity by curbing his addictions in the mid-Seventies. Nancy Dillon, Rolling Stone, 16 Feb. 2024 His heir is a child, so a tenuous Council of Regents has been put in charge. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Feb. 2024 But Sharif’s relationship with the military is also tenuous, Bajpaee said. Mushtaq Yusufzai, NBC News, 9 Feb. 2024 The couple’s text messages in the hours and days leading up to the deadly encounter inside their apartment revealed a tenuous relationship and dramatic New Year’s Eve. Alex Mann, Baltimore Sun, 26 Jan. 2024 With his primary infield positions mostly blocked by veteran stars (Freddie Freeman at first base, Mookie Betts at second, Max Muncy at third), Busch’s place on next season’s team seemed tenuous — barring a more permanent move to a corner outfield spot. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, 11 Jan. 2024 But the nature of the game and location, with scores of league personnel descending on Las Vegas for several days prior, makes for a potentially tenuous dynamic. Danny Emerman, The Mercury News, 30 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Latin tenuis "fine-drawn, thin, narrow, slight" + -ous — more at thin entry 1

First Known Use

1597, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of tenuous was in 1597

Dictionary Entries Near tenuous

Cite this Entry

“Tenuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenuous. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


ten·​u·​ous ˈten-yə-wəs How to pronounce tenuous (audio)
: having little substance or strength : flimsy, weak
a tenuous hold on reality
tenuously adverb
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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