I’m the first to admit my grammar faults, and the difference between the words continual and continuous continually trips me up—if I’m not vigilant. In fact, this once popped up on an editing test I took, which has since made me redouble my efforts to keep them straight and to develop a mnemonic device for simplicity.
Here are the basics:
- continual: intermittent, repeated often (i.e., not always happening)
- continuous: uninterrupted, unceasing (i.e., always happening within a certain period of time)
If something is continuous, that does not mean that it has to go on forever. For example, a person’s talking can be continuous for the span of a minute.
How do I remember the difference between these two words? You’ll have to dive into my brain to find out. Your results may vary.
- Continual ends with an L because the same thing happens after a lull.
- Continuous ends with an S because it doesn’t stop.
The proper use of these words looks something like this:
- The frequent storms are a continual reminder that fall is fast approaching.
- The rain fall was continuous from morning until night.