Sunday, May 28, 2006

continual and continuous

There is a good explanation of continual and continuous at
The explanation is as follows:
Notes: Continual is often confused with continuous. However, the meanings of these two words differ significantly and they cannot be used correctly as synonyms. Continuous refers to an action that continues in an unbroken fashion, as a continuous hum or buzzing sound. Continual refers to a repeated action that is periodically interrupted, as continual complaints about the dog from the neighbors.
Both of these adjectives come from continue, but the differ in meaning so much that they can not be used interchangeable, that is they cannot be synonyms. If I want to write that something happens without stop, then I use continuous.
  • There was a continuous whistle in my ears while I had a cold.
  • Her continous complaining made her uncomfortable company.
Continual, as the explanation points out, means a repeated action.

  • He made continual use of the whistle to stop play.
  • The protestors faced continual pressure from the police.
In an earlier post, I wrote about time and times as noncount and count. It would seem that continuous is like the noncount time in that it is not broken into different actions. Continual is like the count time because it refers to several actions that keep getting repeated.