con·​tin·​u·​al kən-ˈtin-yü-əl How to pronounce continual (audio)
: continuing indefinitely in time without interruption
continual fear
: recurring in steady usually rapid succession
a history of continual invasions

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Since the mid-19th century, many grammarians have drawn a distinction between continual and continuous. Continual should only mean "occurring at regular intervals," they insist, whereas continuous should be used to mean "continuing without interruption." This distinction overlooks the fact that continual is the older word and was used with both meanings for centuries before continuous appeared on the scene. Today, continual is the more likely of the two to mean "recurring," but it also continues to be used, as it has been since the 14th century, with the meaning "continuing without interruption."

Choose the Right Synonym for continual

continual, continuous, constant, incessant, perpetual, perennial mean characterized by continued occurrence or recurrence.

continual often implies a close prolonged succession or recurrence.

continual showers the whole weekend

continuous usually implies an uninterrupted flow or spatial extension.

football's oldest continuous rivalry

constant implies uniform or persistent occurrence or recurrence.

lived in constant pain

incessant implies ceaseless or uninterrupted activity.

annoyed by the incessant quarreling

perpetual suggests unfailing repetition or lasting duration.

a land of perpetual snowfall

perennial implies enduring existence often through constant renewal.

a perennial source of controversy

Example Sentences

This week we experienced days of continual sunshine. The country has been in a continual state of war since it began fighting for its independence. The continual interruptions by the student were annoying the teacher.
Recent Examples on the Web Ford's kept the Bronco fresh with continual updates and new offshoots like the swamp-creature Everglades and the towering Raptor, while even offering power upgrades for existing owners. Michael Simari, Car and Driver, 18 Jan. 2023 Specifically, when the culture is one that is rooted in belonging, offering its support, continual improvement and honesty, leaders will find that their employees stay around longer and are more engaged and fulfilled. Expert Panel®, Forbes, 19 Dec. 2022 My mindset shift led to a process of continual improvement. Joshua Spodek, Time, 4 Nov. 2022 Version 18 of Parallels is available now, with the usual pricing model of $99.99 for an annual subscription with continual updates or $129.99 for a perpetual license specifically for this version. Samuel Axon, Ars Technica, 9 Aug. 2022 But with continual use, the combo of vitamin C and glycolic acid fade dark spots, hyperpigmentation, reduce pore visibility, and smooth out the skin's texture. Nerisha Penrose, ELLE, 14 Jan. 2023 Near the volcanic vent, tiny electrical discharges emit a signal known as continual radio frequency, an early sign of a volcanic eruption. National Geographic, 13 Jan. 2023 Their report highlighted a continual rising in inflation rates and likely hiring freezes on the horizon. Jasmine Browley, Essence, 2 Jan. 2023 The city noted that meth contamination regulations were developed particularly for contexts where continual exposure is likely, such as in buildings where people are manufacturing meth, not just using it. Zoe Sottile, CNN, 1 Jan. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'continual.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English continuel, borrowed from Anglo-French, probably from continu continuous + -el, going back to Latin -ālis -al entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of continual was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near continual

Cite this Entry

“Continual.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


con·​tin·​u·​al kən-ˈtin-yə(-wə)l How to pronounce continual (audio)
: continuing without interruption
days of continual sunshine
: occurring again and again within short intervals
continual interruptions

More from Merriam-Webster on continual

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