The Meaning of Tenuous: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of tenuous? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word tenuous, including its definition, usage, word origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word tenuous mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and other dictionaries like the Collins English Dictionary and American Heritage, the word tenuous is an adjective that means having little substance or strength, shaky, or not thick or dense. Something that is tenuous might only be of slight importance, or it could be something that has a thin consistency or gauge. Many things can be tenuous, including a tenuous thread, tenuous position, tenuous fluid, a tenuous instrument, a family’s tenuous situation, tenuous trust, tenuous palm tree tops, a tenuous transition, tenuous creatures, tenuous strands, a tenuous claim, a tenuous dust cloud, a tenuous interstellar cloud in a local galactic neighbourhood, and many other things.

There are many other languages that contain words that mean tenuous. You may notice that many of these words look similar to each other. This is likely because they have a common root or origin. Often, cognates – which are words that look, sound, and mean similar things across languages – are formed when words share a common ancestor, usually in Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word tenuous is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Portuguese: ténue‎ (Portugal), tênue‎ (Brazil)
  •  Russian: то́нкий‎, жи́дкий‎
  •  Catalan: tènue‎ (masc.) (f)
  •  Walloon: tene‎ (masc.) (f)
  •  Spanish: tenue‎
  •  Dutch: onbelangrijk‎, dunnetjes‎
  •  French: ténu‎
  •  German: nicht stichhaltig‎ , dünn‎, prekär‎, heikel‎, dürftig‎, fein‎, zart‎, schlank‎, klein‎, spärlich‎, unsicher‎, verdünnt‎
  •  Finnish: hatara‎, puutteellinen‎

How can the word tenuous be used in a sentence?

The word tenuous can be used in different sentences. Using a new word in a sentence is a great way to memorize its meaning. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today so that you can remember its definition and continue to use it in your everyday speech. Below are many examples of tenuous. 

The man gave a tenuous account of his past life in the latest issue of The Highlight Look; it goes to show that the mind of man is powerful. 

The prep cook argued with the chef about the thin soup he had made. The chef felt the soup was far too tenuous, and much thinner than he expected. The prep cook was on thin ice. 

The young violinist played the tenuous instrument, inspired by invisible forces of inspiration. She nearly snapped the thin-diameter strings.

The giant fronds of banana plants were surprisingly tenuous. When the botanist was thinking of a layer this thin, he expected a much smaller plant.

When the pandemic hit, the owners of the local restaurant went from tenuously staying in business to closed for good. They were on the very edge of that life of unemployment, and the shutdown ruined them. They hope with the vaccine they can find clarity and slight evidence to reopen.

The young writer from Princeton University thought he would find fame immediately upon graduating. However, his novel had a tenuous, thin plot about an unexciting English town. No publishers from Harpercollins Publishers, Random House, or anywhere else enjoyed the central idea or plot.

The man made a tenuous, fragile claim that his car park charges were invalid, and that he parked on the edge of the power plant, not in the lot. He felt his democratic rights were at risk, when really he was just trying to eliminate the introduction of car parking charges. 

The professionals had a tenuous relationship with the hooligans that hung out outside their offices. There were scatters of litter everywhere, and the hooligans would purposely delay entry once they caught a glimpse of the office workers. 

When the activist made it to the top of the hike in Asia, they received confirmation that the air was indeed tenuous. For this particular thing, they had brought oxygen tanks. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word tenuous?

There are numerous different words that can be used in place of the word tenuous. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you are looking to expand your vocabulary or if you are trying to avoid repeating the same word multiple times. This list of synonyms for the word tenuous is provided by Thesaurus

  •  light
  •  flimsy
  •  slender
  •  doubtful
  •  delicate
  •  attenuate
  •  slight
  •  insignificant
  •  insubstantial
  •  fine
  •  shaky
  •  slim
  •  airy
  •  weak
  •  sketchy
  •  twiggy
  •  dubious
  •  narrow
  •  ethereal
  •  reedy
  •  rare
  •  subtle
  •  nebulous
  •  attenuated
  •  gossamer
  •  rarefied
  •  thin
  •  questionable
  •  aerial

There are also numerous different words that have the opposite meaning as the word tenuous. These opposite words  are called antonyms. Antonyms are also a useful tool in expanding one’s English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word tenuous is also provided by Thesaurus

  • concentrated
  • solidified
  • jelled
  • concrete
  • sanguine
  • heavy
  • positive
  • believing
  • secure
  • self-confident
  • congealed
  • thick
  • satisfied
  • questionless
  • substantial
  • certain
  • close
  • impenetrable
  • hard
  • nonporous
  • undoubting
  • undoubtful
  • undisturbed
  • sure
  • unperturbed
  • condensed
  • solid
  • compact
  • cocksure
  • inelastic
  • set
  • assertive
  • refractory
  • stiff
  • calm
  • fine-grained
  • untroubled
  • tough
  • hardened
  • dense
  • impermeable
  • impervious
  • close-grained
  • compressed
  • sturdy
  • unconcerned
  • assured
  • unyielding
  • rigid
  • convinced

What is the origin of the word tenuous?

According to Etymonline, the word tenuous has been used in Middle English since the 1590s. This word was formed from the Latin tenuis, figuratively meaning trifling or insignificant. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ten meaning to stretch and the suffix ous. This is irregularly formed; the correct form would be teniuous. This word has been used to mean insubstantial since 1917. You can add the suffixes ly and ness to form the related words tenuously (adv.) and tenuousness (n.).

Overall, the word tenuous means having little substance, or not thick or dense. This word comes from the Latin tenuis. 


  1. Tenuous | Definition of Tenuous | Merriam-Webster 
  2. TENUOUS Synonyms: 38 Synonyms & Antonyms for TENUOUS | Thesaurus 
  3. CERTAIN Synonyms: 177 Synonyms & Antonyms for CERTAIN | Thesaurus 
  4. tenuous: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  5. tenuous | Origin and meaning of tenuous | Online Etymology Dictionary