Continually Versus Continuously – A Continuous MistakeOct 04
We travel today once again down the road of misused words. In this case, it is another set that have similar meanings, spellings and sounds that are often used interchangeably. But they were never meant to be thrown casually about as though they were the same, because they aren’t.
The mistake is a pretty understandable one. Not only are the spellings similar, but they have the same word contained within: continue. They also both end the same, and so the shift is so imperceptible that it is hard to see without breaking down each. But the ‘ally’ versus the ‘uously’ makes all the difference.
The word continually does mean for something to continue. However, there are two main distinctions. First, it continues for a very long time, though the actual length is subjective, and so explained through context. It might be a long time in a real sense, such as several years:
The concerned homeowner continually pestered the council for two years about the pothole before it was fixed.
Or, it might be a long time for a certain situation:
She continually pulled at the loose string as we spoke, until after several days of on-again, off-again manipulation it unraveled from the seam.
But what really distinguishes this word from the other is that there a break between instances. The man in the first sentence was not living on the steps of Town Hall, and the woman in the second didn’t sit for days playing with the string. Both stopped, and then started again. This implied interruption changes the meaning.
The second word, continuously, also has the meaning of continuing over a long period of time. Like the first, it can mean years, minutes, seconds…any amount of time that in context seems excessive of impressive. But the key difference is that it means a constant, never ending description.
The absolute nature of the definition means you have to be more careful using continuously than continually. If you don’t mean to describe something constant, then it should be avoided.
They went on to live continuously in that little cabin, miles away from the stresses of modern civilization.
Notice how you can say that their living situation was continuous because there is no reason to suggest that they lived anywhere else. They kept their home, which gives it a sense of permanence.
While you could technically come up with a sentence to use them both, it is advised that you refrain from trying to stuff these two words too close together. That is because while they have a different meaning, they are similar enough that they might make a statement redundant.
Of course, when speaking about creative writing, this point is moot. If it matches with the flow of your content, and it is properly in context, you can do with them as you will. For example:
They were continually parted over the years for various reasons, but they remained continuously in love.
In the end, they are both fantastic and descriptive adjectives. But be wary of how you use them.