tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯrch-wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio) , 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 As the dust settled on a day of high drama in Parliament, the next steps in Britain’s divisive, tortuous Brexit saga became clear. Washington Post, "UK’s Johnson asks for a Brexit delay that he doesn’t want," 20 Oct. 2019 His message to allies and opponents alike: Approve the agreement so Britain can finally put the tortuous, three-year Brexit saga behind it. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Johnson urges support for Brexit deal before knife-edge vote," 18 Oct. 2019 And on routes where Flybe was the only operator the trip home may be a tortuous one, involving a journey to another airport or an extended route by train and even sea. Charlotte Ryan,, "Cities Cut Off and Airports at Risk: What Happens If Flybe Folds," 14 Jan. 2020 The nation will now likely leave the EU on Jan. 31 after three years of tortuous and seemingly endless delays, bickering, reversals, resignations and confusion. Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY, "Analysis: Britain's 'strange' vote, won by Boris Johnson, heralds American-style 'shift'," 13 Dec. 2019 Farber’s teaching style emphasizes giving students a clear explanation of the Talmud’s esoteric and tortuous legal debates. Ben Sales,, "Orthodox woman encourages Talmud study for women," 10 Dec. 2019 However, Tuesday’s vote reopened a tortuous debate that governments had hoped to avoid over what fresh concessions, if any, to offer Mrs. May without shattering the bloc’s unity. Laurence Norman, WSJ, "U.K. Parliament’s Rejection of Brexit Deal Puts European Union in a Bind," 16 Jan. 2019 Under the Iraqi constitution that should take place quickly but in the past agreeing on a prime minister has proved to be a tortuous process of balancing competing political factions that, in Abdul-Mahdi’s case, took a year., "BAGHDAD — Pressured by an expanding protest movement and a rising death toll, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi of Iraq said Friday that he would submit his resignation to parliament, taking the country into greater uncertainty and possibly months of turmoil ahead.," 29 Nov. 2019 Nevertheless, PizzaExpress is headed for a debt restructuring, which will probably be tortuous. Washington Post, "PizzaExpress Is About to Be Sliced Up," 9 Oct. 2019

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

Time Traveler for tortuous

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about tortuous

Statistics for tortuous

Last Updated

11 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tortuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tortuous


How to pronounce tortuous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns
: complicated, long, and confusing


tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯr-chə-wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio) \

Kids Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns a tortuous path


tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯrch-(ə-)wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio) \

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 How to pronounce tortuosity (audio) \ noun, plural tortuosities
torturously adverb

Keep scrolling for more

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).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

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!