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‘Continual’ or ‘continuous’?

There is some overlap in meaning between continuous and continual, but the two words are not wholly synonymous. Both can mean roughly ‘without interruption’, for example

a long and continual war.

five years of continuous warfare.

However, continuous is much more prominent in this sense and, unlike continual, can be used to refer to space as well as time, as in 'the development forms a continuous line along the coast'. Continual, on the other hand, typically means ‘happening frequently, with intervals between’, as in 'the bus service has been disrupted by continual breakdowns'. Overall, continuous occurs much more frequently than continual (almost five times more often in the Oxford English Corpus).

 

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Grammar and usage