You are here:

General Writing and Grammar Help/Usage of the word "continuous"

Advertisement


Question
Dear Ted,
I'm so glad to see you're back on allexperts.com, I was worried about you. I hope all is well with you. Now on  to my question. I'm not sure if I should use the word "continuous”or "continuing" in the following sentences, or if both ways are grammatically correct? Also, if both ways are grammatically correct, is there any difference in meaning between the sentences when I use the word "continuous" or "continuing"?
1. Crime is a continuous problem.
2. Crime is a continuing problem.
3. Unemployment is a continuous problem in America.
4. Unemployment is a continuing problem in America.

Answer
Dear Glen:

I'm so glad to see you're back on allexperts.com, I was worried about you. I
hope all is well with you.

*** I tried to notify my "regular" questioners that I would be away the entire month of November.  On November 5, I underwent a total left hip replacement.  I was in the hospital for eight days.  I have a visit to my orthopedic surgeon this Friday morning.  In the meantime, I have had visits from a home health nurse and a physical therapist -- and he really makes me work!  

*** Another major problem I am dealing with is the vision in my right eye.  I am seeing a specialist who treats macular degeneration.  My kind is the "serious" version that, although it cannot be cured, can be treated or slowed down.  The procedure is also a surgery, involving a large needle being inserted through my eyeball to the back of my eye, where blood is seeping and causing a clot.  My first operation went well, but I have the second one scheduled for December 30.  It takes about a week to recover from the needle and the soreness it causes.

****
Now on  to my question. I'm not sure if I should use
the word "continuous”or "continuing" in the following sentences, or if both ways
are grammatically correct? Also, if both ways are grammatically correct, is
there any difference in meaning between the sentences when I use the word
"continuous" or "continuing"?
1. Crime is a continuous problem.
2. Crime is a continuing problem.
3. Unemployment is a continuous problem in America.
4. Unemployment is a continuing problem in America.

*** The two words are synonyms and are often interchanged.  The real difference between the two is the "-ing" at the end of "continuing."  The "-ing" indicates that it is "progressive," as in a "progression."  In other words, the thing or the action is NOT interrupted.  Both sentences 2 and 4 are, therefore, correct.

"Continuous" does not have the immediacy or "now-ness" of "continuing."  Use "continuous" when you are describing an enduring action.  The action may have started last month or a century ago.  That doesn't matter.  What is important is that the action has been occurring for a period of time and that time began in the past -- NOT the immediate past, but ANYTIME in the past.  Sentence 1 and 3 are correct, because, although there is no time mentioned, we can assume that the problem has been ongoing or enduring.

Here's another example:

The melting of glaciers has been continuous since the end of the Ice Age.

Although we may think of crime and unemployment as being "fairly recent," they are not. We can refer to them as having been present for a long time [continuous] or we may be emphasizing the recent increase of these problems [continuing].

Glen, it may be difficult to see the slight distinction.  I suppose that's why many people use the words interchangeably.

Ted  

General Writing and Grammar Help

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Ted Nesbitt

Expertise

I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

Experience

I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

Education/Credentials
B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.