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Torturous vs. Tortuous

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Separated by just one pesky letter, these two similar-sounding adjectives can be torturous to keep straight. Or is it tortuous? Consider the sentences below:

He had to take a tortuous route through the Alps.

He had to take a torturous route through the Alps.

Which of these sentences is correct? If you are having second thoughts about which of them is correct then you are among many billion people who confuse the two remarkably similar words. In this article we will clear all your confusion about the two words and their meanings and origins.

Origin:

Torturous originated in late 15th century: from Anglo-Norman French, from torture ‘torture’.

Torturous as adjective:

Torturous is used as an adjective in English language where it means characterized by, involving, or causing pain or suffering.

A torturous five days of fitness training.

Tortuous as adjective:

Tortuous is also used as an adjective in English language where it means full of twists and turns.

The route is remote and tortuous.

Something excessively lengthy and complex is also known as tortuous.

I don’t want a tortuous argument.

Examples:

Delphine LaLaurie and her husband Leonard, performed nightmarish and torturous surgery on their slaves in their Royal Street house in the 1830’s. [South Dakota Politics]

 

Investors fear Spain has not learnt the lessons of the tortuous restructuring of banks in Ireland … [Financial Times]

He made many mistakes and rendered his final journey torturous because he and his colleagues hauled their own sledges … [Telegraph]

They have forged ahead on this tortuous journey to get their dream bookstore built. [Valley Sun]

Few things in life are more torturous than losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease. [Star News Online]

But the path to the referendum promises to be tortuous. [New York Times]

Torturous or tortuous:

Torturous, with two r’s, means of, related to, or causing torture. It’s easy to remember because it contains the word torture. Tortuous means having or marked by repeated turns or bends. Some of its synonyms are twisted, complex, winding, and complicated. Some tortuous things might feel torturous, and some torturous things involve tortuous twisting or straining, and in these senses the words share common ground, but they are far from interchangeable. Torturous refers to the pain or agony involved in something, and tortuous emphasizes its twisting or complex nature. A third similar word, tortious, is sometimes confused with tortuous. Tortious means of or relating to tort (i.e. damage, injury, or a wrongful act done willfully, negligently, or in circumstances involving liability).

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"Torturous vs. Tortuous." Grammar.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 24 Nov. 2017. <http://www.grammar.com/torturous_vs._tortuous>.

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