General English

  • noun one of the seven large land areas in the world, e.g. Africa or Europe
  • noun
    (written as Continent)
    the mainland area of Europe, as compared with the islands of the united kingdom

General Science

  • noun one of the seven large landmasses on the Earth’s surface


  • noun one of the seven great land masses of the earth



  • noun one of the major land areas in the world (Africa, north America, south America, Asia, Australia, Antarctica, Europe)

Origin & History of “continent”

Continent comes via Old French from Latin continēns, the present participle of continēre ‘hold together, enclose, contain’ (source of English contain). From the beginning it meant in general ‘exercising self-restraint’; of the more specific senses, ‘chaste’ developed in the 14th century and ‘able to retain urine and faeces’ apparently in the early 19th century. The word’s noun use developed from the Latin phrase terra continēns ‘continuous land’ (for this sense of Latin continēre see (continue)). It was at first applied in the 16th century to any large continuous expanse of territory, and from the early 17th century specifically to any of the Earth’s major landmasses (the English use of ‘the Continent’ for mainland Europe is roughly contemporary with this).