May 31, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: tired, tiresome, and tiring & continuous or continual

Posted in continuous/continual, tired/tiring/tiresome at 6:56 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Tired, tiring, and tiresome

A reader writes:

Uh oh.  I feel a wlut coming on: tiresome vs. tiring?

More than happy to oblige. I’ll even throw in a third word for free: tired. Let’s start with tiring.  Something that is tiring is something that wears you out physically or emotionally.

Running up the steep hill in Frick Park is tiring.

Today was quite tiring as I was trying to keep up with all the kids and their myriad activities.

Tiresome, on the other hand, means irritating, annoying, or boring.

I sat through the whole tiresome lecture and somehow managed to stay awake.

Listening to those yappy dogs constantly barking is becoming quite tiresome.

The ‘tired’ I am talking about is not the past tense of the verb, ‘tire’ nor the noun referring to something that covers the wheel of your car, but the adjective that means old, hackneyed, or overused. I mention it because, while similar to tiring or tiresome, it has a distinct meaning.

I’ve heard that tired joke a million times.

No matter how many times I perform that stunt, it never gets tired.

I’m not going to point out the delusional nature of the speaker in the second example, but I expect that watching that stunt became tiresome a while back.

Tip 2: Continuous or continual

A reader writes:

I have another question. While translating, I noticed that I was using the words “continually” and “continuously” interchangeably. Is there a difference? The dictionary definitions are really close, but I was wondering if you could provide more insight on the topic.

This is a question that comes up every now and then. There continues to be confusion surrounding continuous and continual. They are NOT synonymous.

Something that goes on repeatedly without stopping for any time is continuous.

It rained continuously from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed.

The screaming of the teeny boppers was continuous throughout the Justin Beiber concert.

Something that occurs repeatedly but with intermittent stops is continual.

While I was reading that book, I hard to refer to the dictionary continually to check the definitions of words I ran across.

The instructor was continually amazed by the students’ views of the world.

So the ‘ous’ ending signifies no stopping, and the ‘ual’ ending indicates stops.

Garner[1] provides a handy way to remind yourself of the distinction should you forget it. He says to think of the ‘ous’ ending as short for “one uninterrupted sequence.” That works, I guess. I just don’t know if I would remember it. I was trying to come up with a similar way to remember the ‘ual’ ending’s meaning but couldn’t come up with anything particularly good (usually allow a lull[?]). If you have any more memorable ideas, let me know, and I will share them here.

In the meantime, continue.

[NOTE: I was going to say “continue on,” but according to Garner, that would be redundant.]


[1] Garner, BA.(2009) Garner’s Modern American Usage. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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