‘Continuous' vs 'Continual': What’s the Difference?

By Shanea Patterson, updated on February 6, 2023

‘Continuous’ and ‘continual’ sound very similar, but what’s the difference? And what do they each mean? We’ll cover that in this article, plus teach you how to pronounce both words and how to use them in a sentence correctly.

In short, the difference between the words is: 

  • ‘Continuous’ means continuing without interruption.
  • ‘Continual’ is only used to mean “occurring at regular intervals.”

As you can see, these words mean different things, although they sound slightly the same. That means you should avoid using them interchangeably.

‘Continual’ vs. ‘Continuous’ – Choose Your Words

We’ve just learned that ‘continual’ and ‘continuous’ mean two different things. The former means occurring at regular intervals, while the latter means continuing without interruption.

Therefore, you should only use one or the other. They're not synonyms, but they're not homophones, either. Never use them interchangeably.

How to Use ‘Continual’ vs. ‘Continuous’ Correctly 

To use ‘continuous’ correctly, only use it when referring to something that’s going or continuing without interruption.

For example, you might say that you ran on the treadmill continuously for 30 minutes, meaning without stopping.

To use ‘continual’ correctly, only use it when referring to something that occurs regularly or frequently. Or it could also be something that implies a close, prolonged succession or recurrence.

For example, you might say that we’ve been in a continual war with foreign nations for decades.

Definition and Meaning of ‘Continuous’ and ‘Continual’

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of ‘continuous’ is marked by uninterrupted extension in space, time, or sequence.

A few synonyms of the word include:

  • Ceaseless
  • Continuing
  • Unceasing
  • Running
  • Incessant
  • Nonstop

The same dictionary defines ‘continual’ as continuing forever in time without interruption and repeated in steady, usually rapid succession.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Continuous’ and ‘Continual’

Wondering how to pronounce these words? Here’s a short guide.

  • To pronounce the word ‘continuous’ correctly, here’s the phonetic spelling: kUHntyInyOOUHs
  • To pronounce the word ‘continual’ correctly here’s the phonetic spelling: kUHntynOOUhl

How to Use ‘Continuous’ and ‘Continual’ in a Sentence

Now that you know how to pronounce the words and what they mean let’s see some examples of how to use them in a sentence correctly, starting with ‘continuous.’

  • My fiancé likes to leave the TV running continuously overnight for white noise.
  • Marshal, Lily, Ted, and Robin had a continuous slap bet going on the show How I Met Your Mother.
  • It feels like all my classes are one big continuous class. I can’t focus on anything any of my teachers are saying.
  • My advisor says I should take the night and have a continuous study session to bring my grades up.

Now let’s see some examples of how to use ‘continual.’

  • My grandmother’s continual suffering finally ended last week when she passed away at age 100.
  • The new working conditions produced continual chaos in the factory.
  • There’s been a continual stream of immigration in the country over the last few years.
  • My little brother suffered continual defeats in his karate tournament. He might be crushed by the end of this.

Final Thoughts on ‘Continuous’ and ‘Continual’

To recap, the difference between the words is:

  • ‘Continuous’ refers to something that continues without interruption.
  • ‘Continual’ means occurring at regular intervals, but it could also mean a close, prolonged succession or recurrence.

The words sound similar but mean different things and, therefore, should not be used interchangeably.

If you ever get stuck on usage or meaning, you can always come back to refresh your memory. We’ve also got a ton of content on other confusing words and phrases you might come across while learning the language. Go check it out anytime.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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