Today’s grammar time should be short and sweet with this fairly simple rule. We will be talking about the difference between continuous and continual. Because these words sound so similar and even both refer to time, many people may not know that there is a difference between the two. However, continuous and continual have distinct meanings, and the words should not be used interchangeably. Here’s a quick look at the difference:
Continuous means “forming an unbroken whole; without interruption.”
Continual means “frequently recurring; always happening.”
So while both words refer to something that happens all the time, continuous things never stop and are uninterrupted, while continual things occur repeatedly but happen intermittently. Let’s look at a few examples:
“She had to wait a while to pull out of the parking lot because of the continuous stream of cars heading to UVU.”
Because the cars kept on coming and coming, without any gaps, continuous should be used here.
“Her fatigue was evident by her baggy eyes and continual yawning throughout the day.”
No one has yawns that last uninterrupted for the whole day. Even if you pull an all-nighter, you’ll yawn just intermittently throughout the day. So continual should be used here.
The same rules and definitions apply to the adverb form of the words. For example, “the river flows continuously,” and, “I get emails continually throughout the day.“
At the end of the day, just remember that continuous is uninterrupted, while continual is just recurrent. It’s simple! We hope this quick reminder helps you keep your writing sharp and effective.