Continuous versus continual

In my text book, “Word Power” Oxford University Press,
there is a question I don’t understand as below.

Q: I don’t like John.
His — complaints, day after day, make me angry.

  1. contain
  2. content
  3. continual
  4. continuous

A: continuous

I don’t know why “continual” is wrong.
Please let me know the differences of the meanings
and the usage of “continual” and “continuous”
by showing some examples.

Thank you! :o

Hi Phoo,

Clearly they both refer to something going on and continuing. Continuous just describes ‘not stopping’. You would refer to a continuous programme at a cinema that means when the film has finished, it then starts again. Continual also means not stopping but adds also the idea that you would like it to stop. You would talk about the ‘continual barking of a dog’, that means that the dog never stops barking and you wish it would stop because it is annoying you.


Thank you Alan,
as you said that “continual” indicats “you wolul like it to stop”.
If so, the sentence should be read like:

" I don’t like John. His continual complaints, day after day, made me angry."

because I want to his complaints to stop.

I think this is a poor question because there is little to choose between continual and continuous. They are both adjectives and are considered to be synonyms.

However, even synonyms can be used differently and if I was forced to choose, I would choose continual as the best answer.

To me, continuous more suggests never stopping, within the time period that we are talking about, while continual suggests ongoing/continuing over a period of time but with intervals during which the action stops.

The continuous roaring of the engines made it impossible for us to get much sleep.
Their continual wars during that 100-year period resulted in no gain by either country but much hardship for both.

In your sentence, there are ongoing complaints, day after day, but they are not continuing 24 hours a day.

Having said all that, someone might disagree with my interpretation but ,if so, that would prove the point that the two words are quite similar. Alan hasn’t said which word he prefers, but from what he did say he might also choose continual.

Hi Phoo,

Yes, I would choose ‘continual’ in your sentence. You might take a hint from the adjective ‘continuous’ as it is used to describe that form of the tense referred to as 'progressive ’ ie Present/Past Continuous. I think that the distinction still obtains between the two adjectives.


Hi Phoo

I think either word could be used in your sentence, but I personally prefer “continual complaints”.


Thank you for all of you answeing the topic.
I am sorry, I amde a mistake.
I have found that the answer was “continual”, when I checked again.

Now I know the reason and it was good to confirm
all of you feel the same way that answer should be “continual” rather than “continuous”

Thenk you again!!
I am so happy now!!