• synonyms


[kon-tn-uh nt]
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  1. one of the main landmasses of the globe, usually reckoned as seven in number (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica).
  2. a comparable landmass on another planet.
  3. the mainland, as distinguished from islands or peninsulas.
  4. the Continent, the mainland of Europe, as distinguished from the British Isles.
  5. a continuous tract or extent, as of land.
  6. Archaic. something that serves as a container or boundary.
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  1. exercising or characterized by restraint in relation to the desires or passions and especially to sexual desires; temperate.
  2. able to control urinary and fecal discharge.
  3. Obsolete. containing; being a container; capacious.
  4. Obsolete. restraining or restrictive.
  5. Obsolete. continuous; forming an uninterrupted tract, as land.
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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 formsun·con·ti·nent, adjectiveun·con·ti·nent·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


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.

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

    Common Science

    Carleton W. Washburne

British Dictionary definitions for continents


  1. one of the earth's large land masses (Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Antarctica)
  2. 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
  3. obsolete
    1. mainland as opposed to islands
    2. a continuous extent of land
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Derived Formscontinental (ˌkɒntɪˈnɛntəl), adjectivecontinentally, adverb

Word Origin

C16: from the Latin phrase terra continens continuous land, from continēre; see contain


  1. able to control urination and defecation
  2. exercising self-restraint, esp from sexual activity; chaste
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Derived Formscontinence or continency, nouncontinently, adverb

Word Origin

C14: from Latin continent-, present participle of continēre; see contain


  1. the Continent the mainland of Europe as distinguished from the British Isles
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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

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.

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

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

continents in Science


  1. One of the seven great landmasses of the Earth. The continents are Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

continents in Culture


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.

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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.


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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.