tor·tu·ous | \ˈtȯrch-wəs, ˈtȯr-chə-\

Definition of tortuous 

1 : marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns : winding a tortuous path

2a : marked by devious or indirect tactics : crooked, tricky a tortuous conspiracy

b : circuitous, involved the tortuous jargon of legal forms

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from tortuous

tortuously adverb
tortuousness noun

Did You Know?

Be careful not to confuse tortuous with torturous. These two words are relatives-both ultimately come from the Latin verb torquere, which means "to twist," "to wind," or "to wrench"-but tortuous means "winding" or "crooked," whereas torturous means "painfully unpleasant." Something tortuous (such as a twisting mountain road) might also be torturous (if, for example, you have to ride up that road on a bicycle), but that doesn't make these words synonyms. The twists and turns that mark a tortuous thing can be literal ("a tortuous path" or "a tortuous river") or figurative ("a tortuous argument" or "a tortuous explanation"), but you should consider choosing a different descriptive term if no implication of winding or crookedness is present.

Examples of tortuous in a Sentence

a tortuous path up the mountain a tortuous mountain road marked by numerous hairpin turns

Recent Examples on the Web

Nora has been embattled in a tortuous legal struggle for her family home since the 1980s. Vic Mensa, Time, "Vic Mensa: What Palestine Taught Me About American Racism," 12 Jan. 2018 Circuit Court Judge Paul Felix dismissed ITM’s lawsuit against Noblesville alleging defamation and slander, restraint of trade and tortuous interference when the city refused to renew terms of a lease agreement to stay at its longtime 10-acre home. John Tuohy, Indianapolis Star, "Judge orders train museum out of Noblesville home by July 12," 29 June 2018 That could make the path to an eventual government tortuous. Eric Sylvers, WSJ, "Italy Seeks New Government Across Deepening North-South Divide," 3 Apr. 2018 The search has plunged her into a thicket of tax sales and foreclosures, revealing a tortuous path of ownership that is not unusual for Baltimore’s thousands of vacant homes. Tim Prudente,, "With ownership in question, lawsuit stalls over deadly West Baltimore collapse," 12 July 2018 The foppish Johnson — an articulate campaigner — helped lead Brexit forces to victory in the June 2016 referendum that effectively ended Cameron’s career and set in motion more than two years of tortuous negotiations with the EU. Gregory Katz, The Seattle Times, "Out as UK foreign secretary: One more twist in Boris saga," 9 July 2018 Image It’s hard to blame them, especially since the score’s tortuous path limited its exposure. New York Times, "Wait, Leonard Bernstein Wrote a ‘Peter Pan’ Musical?," 26 June 2018 George’s timetable was particularly long and tortuous, perhaps more so than any pop artist of modern times. John Norris, Billboard, "George Michael's 'Outside' and Its Celebration of Cottaging Is Still Bolder Than Most Pop Music 20 Years Later," 29 May 2018 After a year of tortuous negotiations on the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, many Britons have learned that Brexit isn’t just about Brexit. Jenny Gross, WSJ, "Another Rock on the Road to Brexit: Gibraltar," 30 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tortuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of tortuous

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tortuous

Middle English, from Middle French tortueux, from Latin tortuosus, from tortus twist, from torquēre to twist

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tortuous

Listen to Our Podcast about tortuous

Statistics for tortuous

Last Updated

21 Aug 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tortuous

The first known use of tortuous was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tortuous



English Language Learners Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns

: complicated, long, and confusing


tor·tu·ous | \ˈtȯr-chə-wəs \

Kids Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns a tortuous path


tor·tu·ous | \ˈtȯrch-(ə-)wəs \

Medical Definition of tortuous 

: marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns a tortuous blood vessel

Other Words from tortuous

tortuosity \ˈtȯr-chə-ˈwäs-ət-ē \ noun plural -ties
torturously adverb

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on tortuous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tortuous

Spanish Central: Translation of tortuous

Nglish: Translation of tortuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tortuous for Arabic Speakers

Comments on tortuous

What made you want to look up tortuous? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a generally accepted meaning of a word

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!