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[kon-tn-uh nt] /ˈkɒn tn ənt/
one of the main landmasses of the globe, usually reckoned as seven in number (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica).
a comparable landmass on another planet.
the mainland, as distinguished from islands or peninsulas.
the Continent, the mainland of Europe, as distinguished from the British Isles.
a continuous tract or extent, as of land.
Archaic. something that serves as a container or boundary.
exercising or characterized by restraint in relation to the desires or passions and especially to sexual desires; temperate.
able to control urinary and fecal discharge.
Obsolete. containing; being a container; capacious.
Obsolete. restraining or restrictive.
Obsolete. continuous; forming an uninterrupted tract, as land.
Origin of continent
1350-1400; Middle English < Latin continent- (stem of continēns, present participle of continēre to contain), equivalent to con- con- + -tin-, combining form of ten- hold + -ent- -ent
Related forms
uncontinent, adjective
uncontinently, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for continents
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The open sea, of the existence of which we are certified, must wash the shores of continents.

    The Field of Ice Jules Verne
  • It was natural to distinguish the two continents as South and North America.

    Introductory American History Henry Eldridge Bourne
  • Bitter wars have been fought in Europe for colonial 160 supremacy in other continents.

    Mountain Meditations L. Lind-af-Hageby
  • They overrun the seven continents and their respective seas.

    Rosinante to the Road Again

    John Dos Passos
  • The continents of the world have become vast, uninhabitable deserts.

    Common Science Carleton W. Washburne
British Dictionary definitions for continents


one of the earth's large land masses (Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Antarctica)
that part of the earth's crust that rises above the oceans and is composed of sialic rocks. Including the continental shelves, the continents occupy 30 per cent of the earth's surface
  1. mainland as opposed to islands
  2. a continuous extent of land
Derived Forms
continental (ˌkɒntɪˈnɛntəl) adjective
continentally, adverb
Word Origin
C16: from the Latin phrase terra continens continuous land, from continēre; see contain


able to control urination and defecation
exercising self-restraint, esp from sexual activity; chaste
Derived Forms
continence, continency, noun
continently, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Latin continent-, present participle of continēre; see contain


the Continent, the mainland of Europe as distinguished from the British Isles
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for continents



late 14c., "self-restraining," from Old French continent and directly from Latin continentem (nominative continens) "holding together, continuous," present participle of continere "hold together" (see contain). Meaning moved from "exercising self-restraint" to "chaste" 14c., and to bowel and bladder control 19c.



"large land mass," 1550s, from continent land (mid-15c.), translating Latin terra continens "continuous land," from continens, present participle of continere (see continent (adj.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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continents in Science
One of the seven great landmasses of the Earth. The continents are Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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continents in Culture

continents definition

The large parts of the surface of the Earth that rise above sea level. The seven major continents are Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

Note: Continents are made from the lightest rocks in the Earth. Some of these are also the oldest known rocks on Earth, with an age of 3.5 billion years, measured by radioactive dating.
Note: According to the theory of plate tectonics, continents move along piggy-back on the tectonic plates like rafts floating on water.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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