Words sometimes confused: continuous and continual by Angela Caldin

I know that there is a difference between continuous and continual and I remember being taught about it at school. But sometimes I forget what the difference is. So I’m explaining it for my benefit and for the benefit of anyone else who might like to know that they are not synonyms.

Continuous indicates that something goes on without interruption, whereas continual indicates that something goes on over a period of time, but with intervals of interruption.

  • The continuous noise of machinery from the next door factory began to affect her health.
  • It was difficult to get on with any work because of the continual ringing of the phone.

In other words, when a process starts stops and then starts again and again, the word used to describe it is continual. Continuous, on the other hand, describes a process without interruptions.

  • The meteorological office confirmed that there had been continuous rain for twelve hours in some parts of England.
  • During the rainy season in India, there is continual rain for several weeks.

Extra info!

Continuous can be used for things that are finite:

  • The newly charged vacuum cleaner had continuous power for about half an hour.

And also for things that are infinite:

  • The planets are in continuous motion round the sun.

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