Difference between continuous, continual, constant, and persistent

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600 Confusing Words Explained E-Book

Hello, students. It’s Shayna from EspressoEnglish.net. I’m here today for another live video class to help you learn English. If you’re watching me live, then please let me know by liking this video or writing “Hello” in the comments.

Today I got a really good question from one of my students, who asked about the difference between these words: continuous, continual, constant, and persistent. This is a really difficult one, so I’m happy to explain it to you.


“Continuous” means “without stopping.” Think about water flowing through a river, or water falling down a waterfall. The water is flowing continuously without stopping. There’s no pause; there’s no break.

This here, “continuous,” is the adjective form. I said, “The water is flowing continuously.” I added LY, to make it an adverb, in order to describe the verb, “flow.” The water in a river is flowing continuously, without stopping.

If you live next door to a factory where there are a lot of machines and a lot of noise, then you might say, “There is continuous noise from the factory.” All day, the noise is continuous. It doesn’t stop, and there are no breaks. “Continuous” means “without stopping.”


“Continual” means “very frequent.” If you have a very busy office and the phone is ringing frequently, you could say, “The phone is ringing continually.” It’s not, without stopping, because there are pauses or breaks, but it happens very, very frequently.

Another example would be, let’s say you’re in a conversation, and someone else comes into the conversation, and they interrupt you once, then twice, then three times. You could say, “This person continually interrupts me.” It’s multiple instances of interruption. It happens very frequently.

Do you see the difference between “continuous,” which means “without stopping” (there are no breaks) and “continual,” which refers to a series of very frequent incidents?


We also have the word “constant.” Constant can be actually used for both of these situations. You could say about the water in the river, “The water is constantly flowing.” It doesn’t stop. Or you could say about the phone ringing, “The phone is constantly ringing.”

The word “constant” as an adjective, or “constantly” as an adverb, can be used to describe both of these situations. Either, without stopping, or, very frequent. Usually, we can tell from the context, which one it is.

In the example of the factory making noise, if I said, “There’s constant noise from the factory,” I understand from the context that the noise doesn’t stop. If someone interrupts me constantly, then those are specific incidents that happen very frequently. Constant and constantly can be used for both of these situations.


We also have the word “persistent.” Sometimes “persistent” means “very frequent.” For example, you can talk about someone making persistent mistakes in a project. It means they made many, many mistakes, over and over. They repeatedly made mistakes.

It’s actually more common to use the word “persistent” to describe a person who doesn’t give up. For example, if you’re looking for a job and you’ve already spent several months looking without success, but you still keep trying and keep sending out your resume, and keep making phone calls, then you are being persistent, because you are continuing to make effort, and you’re not giving up.

Or if you’re studying English every day, then you are studying English persistently. You keep making effort. You make effort every day, and you don’t stop making effort. You don’t give up on your goal of learning English. You can remember, “persistent” usually describes people, because you have the “per” in “persistent,” is like the “per” in “person” who doesn’t give up.

I hope this lesson has helped explain what the difference is between these four very similar words. If you’d like to try out using these words in practice, then leave a comment using one or more of them in a sentence, and I will let you know if it’s correct or incorrect.

If you’d like to learn more English, I have a lot of courses that can help you improve your English fast, so click on the link together with this video, to check out all of my different courses. Thank you for joining me today, and I will see you in the next video. Bye for now.

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Difference between continuous, continual, constant, and persistent Espresso English

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