One letter separates ‘tortuous’ and ‘torturous’ in terms of spelling. To make matters more confusing, something which is ‘tortuous’ can also be ‘torturous’. Nevertheless, these words have very distinct meanings. And as such, it’s important to know how you should use them in your written work.
The adjective ‘tortuous’ means ‘having multiple twists, turns or bends’. It is also used to mean ‘overly complicated’.
For example, we could describe a very long sentence containing multiple clauses separated by commas and semicolons as ‘a tortuous statement’. In a more literal sense, it would be used in a sentence like this:
The roads to the coast were tortuous.
In all cases, though, we use ‘tortuous’ to imply something is twisted or complex.
The adjective ‘torturous’ means ‘related to or like torture’. This doesn’t have to be actual torture, as this term is also used to describe general pain or difficulty. For instance:
Her training session was torturous.
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But in all uses, ‘torturous’ implies pain or strain.
Aside from their similarity in spelling, one reason people confuse ‘tortuous’ and ‘torturous’ is because they can be used in similar contexts. Take, for example, a sentence which describes something as both complicated and difficult:
The tortuous path was torturous to walk.
Knowing the difference between these words is vital if you want to use them in your writing. Keep in mind that the adjective ‘torturous’ contains the word ‘torture’ (without an ‘e’).
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