“Continuous” and “continual” are sometimes used interchangeably, but these words are not actually synonyms.
Confusion is understandable, though: both “continuous” and “continual” come from the verb “continue,” and both are adjectives related to duration. There is, however, a subtle difference in their usage. Read on to learn more.
Continuous (Without Interruption)
The word “continuous” is an adjective that describes something as ongoing and uninterrupted. It is usually used when referring to a duration of time:
The continuous sound of our neighbor’s clog dancing drove us mad.
“Continuous” can also describe an uninterrupted spatial span:
The Maginot Line was a continuous stretch of concrete fortifications.
“Continuous” is the more common of the two words we’re examining, so it is more likely you will need this in most situations.
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The adjective “continual” means that something happens repeatedly at intervals, rather than as one long, uninterrupted event. It would be used in a sentence like this:
Peter hated the continual storms that blighted his childhood on the plains.
This sentence refers to storms that occurred frequently and repeatedly, but there wasn’t one continuous, ongoing storm that lasted the entire length of Peter’s childhood.
Continuous or Continual?
Knowing the difference between these adjectives means that you will be able to use them with confidence in your writing. The basic facts to remember are:
Something which is continuous happens without interruption.
Something which is continual recurs, but with breaks between occurrences.
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