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Continually vs. Continuously

continually_continuously

Today we’re going to explore the meanings and uses of the adverbs continually and continuously.

These terms, along with their adjective forms continual and continuous, are often used interchangeably in speech and writing, but style guides urge writers to practice discernment when using continually and continuously. In formal contexts, continually should be used to mean “very often; at regular or frequent intervals,” and continuously to mean “unceasingly; constantly; without interruption.” To put this into context: reading grammar blogs continually, or at regular intervals, throughout the day might be a fun way to boost your knowledge about the English language, but doing so continuously, or without stopping, for the duration of a day would likely result in fatigue, hunger, and—dare we say—boredom.

Despite the rules of good usage outlined above, it is not uncommon for continually to be listed as a synonym for continuously in dictionaries, or for them to be used interchangeably in the wild. Both words come from the Latin verb continēre meaning “to hold together; retain,” and when continually entered English it meant what continuously does now.

One way to remember the difference is to use the letters in each term as a hint: continuously has an uninterrupted chain of Os and Us toward the end, reminding us that it means “uninterruptedly” or “unceasingly.” Continually, is interrupted by two jutting Ls, reminding us this term is associated with breaks, interruptions, and intervals. Knowing the difference between these terms will give you an advantage in formal settings, but don’t fret if you can’t keep the two words distinct all the time. After all, style guides are continually published, but the language is continuously changing.

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47 Comments

  1. Thabo Ndhlovu -  July 4, 2016 - 2:57 am

    I love the insight provided here. Thank you so much for this site.

    Reply
  2. pallab -  September 22, 2015 - 10:40 pm

    great … i have been thinking about this for a while. thanks.

    Reply
    • Matt -  December 23, 2015 - 1:26 am

      Like OMG me too… samesies!!

      Reply
      • joe -  August 1, 2016 - 4:39 pm

        <3

        Reply
  3. Victor Akpalu -  July 17, 2015 - 1:57 pm

    It is amaizing to know this thanks

    Reply
  4. Marina -  July 13, 2015 - 11:05 am

    The English language has always held a fascination for me, and I laughed out loud when I saw the box with “Continually vs. Continuously”! My widowed grandmother used to take turns staying with each of her 6 children. When I was in 5th grade, she lived a year with us – and she and my father were ALWAYS (continually) going around & around arguing which of those two terms was “correct”. For the life of me, I cannot remember on which side of the fence they each were, but neither would give place to the other. To a 10-year-old, it was funny, and the memory some 50 years later still is humorous. Thanks, from an English teacher!

    What irritates me so much is writers using “text-talk” in composition. Grrrr. (It’s interesting how many ESL writers have commented herein.)

    Reply
    • Pietro Del Buono -  July 29, 2015 - 5:03 am

      In 1992 I started seeing the nice blonde who is now my wife.

      In the same year, one evening while dining at O Fado, a small and rather nice Portuguese restaurant in London, the two of us engaged in a rather vivacous discussion of what actually constitutes a “berry”. The discussion is currently in progress, mind we di not debate contiously, rather we do that continually…

      Let see if this is contagious: a strawberry it ain’t a berry, but an orange is…

      P

      Reply
  5. Dr M Kuriakose -  July 10, 2015 - 8:39 pm

    Very Useful.every word has got its own specific meaning and usage. Every word is different from another in its meticulous use.. as no two leaves of a plant are congruent.

    Reply
  6. SMurguia -  July 3, 2015 - 12:40 pm

    Signing up to the Word of the day and the Word fact of the week was definitely the right thing to do, I am very pleased with the whole experience as I continously confirm my empirical knowledge of the English language.
    Muchas gracias!

    Reply
    • Solarcide -  July 11, 2015 - 11:17 am

      I think you mean “continually confirm my empirical knowledge.”

      =D

      Reply
  7. Cynth -  June 24, 2015 - 2:24 pm

    The difference is not well understood. Whenever this is used in written instructions or descriptions or contracts I have to ask do you mean this or do you mean that? When it makes a difference to you, you always have to ask for clarification.

    Reply
    • Deb -  June 29, 2015 - 12:02 pm

      I would think it is especially critical in contractual language – good point!

      Reply
  8. Kisawuzi edwin -  June 24, 2015 - 7:12 am

    Its so helpful indeed

    Reply
  9. Chris -  June 23, 2015 - 1:23 am

    I’ve always known that there’s a subtle difference between the two words but can never correctly recall. Thank you for the tip on how to remember the differences!

    Reply
  10. ulla -  June 21, 2015 - 11:14 pm

    Thank u very much,its helpful ,one day i wil able to know ENglish language very well.

    Reply
  11. Cath -  June 21, 2015 - 9:33 am

    Great explanation. I also like the addition of the “repeatedly” substitution rule offered by Vicky — put the two together and you can’t go wrong. In writing, I love the visual hint about the double ‘l’s rising up to interrupt the flow… a brilliant mnemonic device! (If that is the correct term for it… does anyone know?)

    Reply
  12. Dr m.asif malik -  June 19, 2015 - 3:46 am

    Satisfactory explanation. Pronunciation is clear

    Reply
  13. muhammad sohel rana (bd) -  June 19, 2015 - 2:33 am

    This site helping me to enrich my vocabulary continuously although I read continually this site.

    Reply
    • Heesang cha -  June 22, 2015 - 12:57 am

      I got the point from your comments, without reading the article. Thanks

      Reply
  14. Shraddhargha Giri -  June 19, 2015 - 12:46 am

    good explanation , I have clearly understood this explanation . -Thank you

    Reply
  15. Jiri -  June 19, 2015 - 12:37 am

    You are doing great job here Dictionary.com! Thank you for that.

    Reply
  16. Riaan -  June 18, 2015 - 11:10 pm

    I continuously use continuously, maybe I should rather use it continually.

    Reply
  17. Winter -  June 18, 2015 - 10:36 pm

    I appreciate this app it continually updates my lack of knowledge to the English vocabulary. English language countinously changes year after year

    Reply
    • B Allen -  June 28, 2015 - 10:08 am

      Wow! You CANNOT update your LACK of knowledge unless you unlearn more and more.

      Reply
      • Oli -  September 24, 2015 - 8:45 am

        ‘Update’ simply means ‘alter’, therefore you can update your lack of knowledge.

        Reply
  18. Dr Kapu Ramesh -  June 18, 2015 - 8:33 pm

    Thankyou,
    never we bother about many words seen in this site very educative

    Reply
  19. c. Hugh -  June 18, 2015 - 2:13 pm

    Wonderful explanation! Thank you so much. Delightful.

    Reply
  20. DogLady -  June 18, 2015 - 1:30 pm

    I like the “two jutting Ls” explanation reminding us that “continually” has interruptions and breaks, as opposed to “continuously” flowing constantly. And to my musician friends, may I add something out of the Harvard Dictionary of Music? When you are playing along and come to this mark // at the top of the staff, that is a cesura. It means to stop abruptly, make a break right there. The conductor brings us back in after a cesura, just like after a hold or fermata. The cesura is commonly referred to as “railroad tracks” for simplicity or when musicians cannot remember the correct term. And what do you do at railroad tracks? You STOP. :)

    Reply
    • Ricky Forguson -  June 19, 2015 - 8:21 am

      I’m pretty sure the word is CAESURA. A natural pause or break in a line of poetry (or in your case…music).

      Reply
    • Terry Middleton -  July 9, 2015 - 7:59 am

      If people would study music, they would not only learn more about language, but also about practical applied mathematics.
      Thank you for pointing out the cesura, also caesura, and the vulgar “railroad tracks”; as well as, for the fermata–sometimes called the “birds eye”.
      I must admit, I haven’t used either term in quite some time.
      Sometimes trying to explain music to the uneducated causes us to use the more easily remembered terms, such as railroad tracks and birds eye, resulting in our forgetting the correct terms ourselves.
      Again, thank you.

      Reply
  21. Joy -  June 18, 2015 - 12:21 pm

    I LOVE THIS SITE. I CHECK MY DAILY WORD, DAILY.

    THANK U

    Reply
  22. MBG -  June 18, 2015 - 12:12 pm

    Blissfully and continually confused, but continuously learning.

    Reply
  23. David Adebayo Alabi -  June 18, 2015 - 11:40 am

    Your teaching people like me who have very poor grammatical background, is marvelous. Thank you.

    Reply
  24. Wansi Hettiarachchi -  June 18, 2015 - 10:55 am

    Explanation is very clear.

    Reply
  25. LION SUNTHA -  June 18, 2015 - 10:38 am

    Your continual presentation of facts in my mail is making me to be continuously admiring the English language! Thanks.

    Reply
  26. Vicky -  June 18, 2015 - 9:46 am

    If you can substitute the word “repeatedly” for the questionable word, you should use continually. “He repeatedly called me over the past week.” If not, use continuously. “When the pipes burst, water ran continuously for two hours.” Repeatedly wouldn’t make sense here.

    Reply
  27. Cindy -  June 18, 2015 - 9:41 am

    Thanks for such a terrific explanation.

    Reply
  28. OGENTHO RAMSON -  June 18, 2015 - 5:23 am

    I didn’t know if these two words all existed rightfully, i used to think one of them was just a mis-spelling!
    Thanks for the information.

    Reply
  29. OGENTHO RAMSON -  June 18, 2015 - 5:20 am

    I have just realise how poor i am in english!

    Reply
    • Yvonne Floyd -  January 30, 2016 - 5:29 pm

      English is spelled with a capital E.

      English is a complicated language. You are not alone. Believe me.

      Reply
  30. Dr Basharat Amin Kuthu -  June 18, 2015 - 4:57 am

    Brilliant. ..absolutely brilliant explanation.

    Reply
  31. Rebekah -  June 18, 2015 - 1:31 am

    Thank you! I never knew there was a difference in meaning between the two terms.

    Reply
  32. Mwamba Musonda Kelvin -  June 18, 2015 - 1:16 am

    Want To Learn More English Words To Improve My Spellings And To Know More About Word-meaning That Sounds The Same.
    Thank You

    Reply
    • EHD -  June 18, 2015 - 5:17 pm

      When I saw this lesson I realized I knew that continuously meant uninterrupted but then what did continually mean? It is good to know the difference because I don’t think I would have thought of continually if I needed it in a sentence. I would have probably used repeatedly, like Vicky suggested. Thanks, Vicky, what was a good extra explanation to make it even more clear. These are great lessons, I’m glad I found this site!

      Reply
      • B Allen -  June 28, 2015 - 10:14 am

        But, 99% of readers won’t know any difference so it’s just a philosophical point. Interesting but really useless. That’s English for you. Even smart people talk like dummies i.e. “Where you at”.

        Reply
        • Sheri -  July 9, 2015 - 11:16 am

          I don’t even know any”less-than-smart” people who would say, “Where you at?”

          Reply
        • Marina -  July 13, 2015 - 11:06 am

          Speak for yourself, Grumpy.

          Reply

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