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How to use “continually” vs. “continuously” with example sentences

The words continually and continuously are very similar, and yet have slight nuances that many people are not aware of. In fact, these two terms cannot be used interchangeably.

Beth Taylor
Beth Taylor

Continually or continuously

The words continually and continuously are very similar, and yet have slight nuances that many people are not aware of. In fact, these two terms cannot be used interchangeably. Both words share the same origins; they come from the Latin “continuus,” meaning uninterrupted or successive.

Both continuously and continually clearly derive from the verb “continue,” which means to pursue or maintain an action. However, we can continue an action without interruption, and we can continue an action while stopping and starting over a period of time, and that’s where the difference between continually and continuously lies.

Difference between “continually” and “continuously”

The adverb continually along with the adjective form, continual, describes an action that happens repeatedly or regularly. It continues to occur frequently, but it is not one long, never-ending action. It is a synonym of recurrently.

On the other hand, continuously and the adjective continuous are used for things that continue without ceasing. It is a synonym of incessantly.

Examples and explanations

He continually asks questions.
She spoke continuously for 15 minutes.

The first example means that the man regularly asks questions at unspecified intervals. Conversely, the woman in the second example spoke without stopping for 15 minutes.

We need to stop the continual bickering at work.
My children fought continuously all the way home from school.

The former sentence shows the need to stop the frequent, but not constant, quarreling, while the latter shows that the children did not stop fighting at all during the journey home from school.

As part of the fire drill program, an alarm will sound continually throughout the year.
The fire alarm will sound continuously to show that it is a real emergency.

Firstly, the alarm will ring on and off recurrently during the year. Secondly, in the case of an emergency, the fire alarm will not stop ringing.

“Continually” and “continuously” further examples

For over a decade, NASA has been continually working towards its goal of sending humans to Mars.
The Professor’s continual efforts throughout the year paid off, as all of his students graduated with honors.
The baby cried continuously when I put her in her crib until I picked her up again.
The continuous noise coming from my dishwasher was driving me crazy.

While the difference between the two adverbs is only slight, it’s important to be able to use each one correctly. When in doubt, ask yourself this: was the action interrupted, and restarted several times, or was it one long action without pause?

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