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Continual vs. Continuous

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The English language is full of words that are both similar in sound and similar in meaning. Many of these words are classified as homophones, but many others don’t quite fit under that label. The two words continually vs. continuously, while not being exact homophones, sound enough alike to confuse writers. Plus, their meanings are somewhat similar, so it adds a layer of confusion. But, as is the case with so many other words, once you know the difference, picking the correct word, continually or continuously, is easy.

In this post, I want to talk about the differences between continuously vs. continually and the best ways to use them in your writing. I will cover their definitions, illustrate how to use them with example sentences, and give you a few tricks to keep them apart in the future.

Origin:

The word continuous originated in mid-17th century: from Latin continuus ‘uninterrupted’, from continere ‘hang together’ (from con- ‘together with’ + tenere ‘hold’) + -ous. The word continual originated from Middle English: from Old French continuel, from continuer ‘continue’, from Latin continuare, from continuus.

Continuous as adjective:

The word continuous is used as an adjective which means forming an unbroken whole; without interruption.

The whole performance is enacted in one continuous movement.

Continual as adjective:

Continual is also used as an adjective in English language where it means forming a sequence in which the same action or event is repeated frequently.

His plane went down after continual attacks.

Something having no interruptions is also called continual.

Some patients need continual safeguarding.

Examples:

His office reported continual talks with the Department of State on the orphans’ plight. [Post-Gazette]

Now he also understands what it was like for a younger brother to continually get his head shoved into a spiky hedge by a ruthless older sibling. [Press.co.nz]

After six years of continual plot twists, flashbacks and flash forwards, fans of the mysterious drama “Lost” will begin the show’s final season. [The Daily Athenaeum]

Based on these findings, aboriginal Australians would represent one of the oldest continuous populations outside Africa. [Washington Post]

 

One of the advantages of not having an insurance industry with hundreds of years of continuous history is that you get to make things up as you go along. [Financial Times]

That furious brown water, swirling, foaming, leaping and thundering, represented for Romantics the continuous force of thought. [More Intelligent Life]

Continuous or continual:

Although these words are similar in their sound and even in their meanings, telling them apart is easy once you’re familiar with their differences. Continually describes something that is frequently occurring but intermittent. Continuously describes something that occurs without interruption. These differences also hold true for the words’ adjective forms, continuous vs. continual. Something is continual (continually) if it is frequent, recurring, recurrent, and intermittent. Continually, recurring, and intermittent all have double consonants in them. Something is continuous (continuously) if it is steady, sustained, and ceaseless. All of these words contain the letter “S.” There is also a good mnemonic for the word continuous, which ends in the three letters “ous.” Think of this –ous as standing for “one uninterrupted sequence.”

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"Continual vs. Continuous." Grammar.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 25 Nov. 2017. <http://www.grammar.com/continual_vs._continuous>.

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