When I awoke this morning, rain was falling. During mid-morning, the rain was still falling. I just looked out my window, and, sure enough, the rain has not yet stopped.
So, here’s the question. How does the rain fall? Has the rain been falling continually or continuously? Continually and continuously have different meanings. Which word is right?
Continuously means occurring without pause or break. This morning, the rain has been falling continuously. It hasn’t stopped falling during the time described, i.e., this day. At no time during this day has the rain stopped falling. It started, and it continued. If rain doesn’t stop (at least during a specific time period), it is falling continuously.
Continually means occurring at regular intervals, which is to say that something happens from time to time, not all the time. Over the course of many days, the rain might fall continually. Perhaps rain falls every day, but only in the afternoons. That would be continuous rain. If rain falls regularly during a time period, such as during a 2-month period, it is falling continually.
Does this matter? You bet it does! Let’s look at another example. Let’s say that a woman has given birth to 5 children, one at a time. If she has been continuously pregnant, she is a medical miracle. At no time was she not pregnant, i.e., she was always pregnant. However, assuming a time period after each birth when she was not pregnant, she was continually pregnant. Her babies, therefore, were made continually, not continuously.
On the other hand, babies are being born continuously across the world. I think it is safe to say that at every moment, someone somewhere is pregnant. At no time are no babies being made. On a global scale, babies are made continuously.
As you can see, continual and continuous are very different. If you use the wrong word, you may communicate false information. For example, if you use continuous when you should have used continual, your relatives are no longer visiting during the holidays. They have moved in to stay. And if you use continually when you should have used continuously, gravity stops working every so often, and people begin to float away.
Here’s a quick reminder:
Continual/continually: occurring at intervals
Continuous/continuously: occurring without pause
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