When to Use Continually or Continuously

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

A common mistake that people make when writing and speaking is confusing the terms 'continuously' and 'continually.' In this lesson, we will learn when to correctly use these words.

There Is a Difference

You are continually sleeping, but continuously breathing. Have you ever wondered what the difference was between these two words? Let's find out more about continuous and continual.


Continual means that something occurs recurrently. It is not non-stop, but it happens repeatedly. For example, commercials are on television continually. They aren't on constantly as scheduled television programming occurs as well, but you can depend on another commercial to occur within ten minutes on most networks. Continual is used as an adjective. Continually is used as an adverb.

A city bus will stop at the bus stop continually. There is not always a bus at the stop, but it happens often enough that you can depend on one coming back in short order. Continual was the only word option from approximately 1400 A.D. until around the 1600s when a new word, continuous, was born.


Continuous means something that never stops. For example, your heart beats continuously, meaning that it does not beat intermittently, but continues to move. Continuous is used when the word functions as an adjective. Continuously is used when the word functions as an adverb.

Another example of continuous is the population. The world's population has continuously grown over the last 45 years with an additional 140 people every minute.


Let's look at some examples. See if you can determine whether each of these sentences calls for the use of continuously or continually.

  • The water flowed _____ down the waterfall.
  • The sprinkler system _____ provides refreshment for the lawn for 15 minutes every morning and afternoon.
  • The postal worker _____ delivers mail to that address by 2:00 P.M. each day.
  • The Earth _____ rotates on its access.

Have you figured out the answers?

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