writhed; writhing

transitive verb

: to twist into coils or folds
: to twist so as to distort : wrench
: to twist (the body or a bodily part) in pain

intransitive verb

: to move or proceed with twists and turns
writhed to the music
: to twist from or as if from pain or struggling
: to suffer keenly
writhe noun

Did you know?

Writhe wound its way to us from the Old English verb wrīthan, meaning “to twist,” and that ancestral meaning lives on in the word’s current uses, most of which have to do with twists of one kind or another. Among the oldest of these uses is the meaning “to twist into coils or folds,” but in modern use writhing is more often about the physical contortions of one suffering from debilitating pain or attempting to remove oneself from a tight grasp (as, say, a snake from a hawk’s talons). The word is also not infrequently applied to the twisting bodies of dancers. The closest relation of writhe in modern English lacks any of the painful connotations often present in writhe: wreath comes from Old English writha, which shares an ancestor with wrīthan.

Examples of writhe in a Sentence

She lay on the floor, writhing in pain. a nest of writhing snakes
Recent Examples on the Web Green writhed in pain on the ground for a handful of possessions until a stoppage, then left for the locker room with trainers. Shayna Rubin, The Mercury News, 16 Feb. 2024 Vanderbilt fell hard on the Toyota Center court, writhing in pain. Houston Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2024 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 And a premise that even 20 years ago would have had the old Legion of Decency writhing on the floor: happy divorce. John Anderson, WSJ, 28 Dec. 2023 The other left Williams writhing in pain as an errant snap struck him below the belt. Ryan Kartje, Los Angeles Times, 24 Sep. 2023 The wards filled with girls shot in the stomach and children writhing from burning shrapnel. Katharine Houreld, Washington Post, 30 Nov. 2023 Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is finally in theaters, box-office receipts are piling up, and fans are writhing around in quasi-religious agitation in a way that David Gordon Green could only have hoped to achieve in The Exorcist: Believer. Joe Reid, Vulture, 18 Oct. 2023 Fifty years ago, Friedkin’s film depicted the ritual by showing the victim writhing violently, cursing in a guttural voice, and emitting vile substances. David Sims, The Atlantic, 6 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'writhe.' 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 Old English wrīthan; akin to Old Norse rītha to twist

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of writhe was before the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near writhe

Cite this Entry

“Writhe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/writhe. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


writhed; writhing
: to twist and turn this way and that
writhe in pain

More from Merriam-Webster on writhe

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