I Continue to Be Continuous

I continue to be concerned about good writing. That’s why I want to point out to you that continual and continuous are not the same thing. Sure, they have the same root word: continue. They both refer to duration or length. But the root continue has many variations with slight but significant differences in meaning and usage from continuous.

Continuous means without stopping.

  • Hannah kept up a continuous wail while Dad changed her diaper. (Poor Dad. There was no break, no reprieve, from the baby’s ear-splitting cries.)

But continual means repeated with intermittent breaks.

  • Baby Hannah’s irritable disposition may have been due to continual outbreaks of diaper rash. (Her diaper rash would clear up and then return sometime later—repeatedly.)

Need a visual to help you keep these two words straight? Continual is a dotted line—something that comes and goes, starts and stop. Continuous is a circle, never ending.

And your bonus word—continuum—is a solid line, a continuous series or a whole in which one part is indistinguishable from the next. A continuum is a collection, sequence, or progression of elements varying by minute degrees.

  • The performance elicited a continuum of every emotion—from sadness to joy—and left the viewers speechless.

I will continue with continuous posts to provide you with a continuum of ideas, from easy to difficult. But if you continually complain, I may have to stop.

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