Continue and “Continue on”

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Ralph Mielcarek writes:

Please explain: Is the phrase CONTINUE ON — giving advice or instruction, considered redundant, or will CONTINUE suffice?

The phrase “continue on” generally triggers a blackboard moment for me.

I accept the use of the “on” in a statement such as

Talks continue on the topic of global warming

but I see no use for “on” for a statement such as

The children may continue on with their search for leaves.

The entry for continue on in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage acknowledges ongoing objections to the phrase:

A half dozen or more commentators from Ayres 1881 to Chambers 1985 have dismissed “continue on” as a redundancy, with the “on” considered (usually) superfluous. Ayres himself found the “on” to be “euphonious” in some expressions, but superfluous in others. Later commentators seem to have missed the euphony. One, however, Safire 1984, defends the expression when applied to travel.

The entry concludes:

If you are one of the few who use “continue on,” you may keep right on using it. And if you do not use it, of course, there is no reason to begin.

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9 thoughts on “Continue and “Continue on””

  1. Is the phrase “continue on” discussed in the Mirriam-Webster entry you quote actually the same as that used in the sentence “Talks continue on the subject of global warming?” The “on” in that sentence serves a vital function: if you omit it the sentence makes sense, of a sort, but its meaning is quite different.

  2. Like the “talks continue on the topic…” example, many of us commonly hear directions like “Continue on Main Street for 3 blocks” which probably reinforces the use of “continue on.”
    Also, I wonder if the familiarity of “Carry on” also contributes to the use “on” even when not technically needed.


  3. I don’t feel you need the second word on> It is redunant, not necessary and can complicate the work. Just keep it basic and simple. A word out of place is a disgrace, just remeber the less the best, save the best words for your writing material no matter whether it may be fiction, non-fiction ,etc.

    This reads more fluidly, doesn’t disconnect you from the sentence.

    “I have told you and told you you need to continue with your homework until it is done. There has been enough flack over your tardiness in regards to your assignments your teacher is always giving you.

  4. “I have told you and told you you need to continue with your homework until it is done. There has been enough flack over your tardiness in regards to your assignments your teacher is always giving you.

    Geesh! ‘Continue on’ would be the least of the problems with fluidity and jarring there….

  5. @Kathryn

    I didn’t mean to imply that anything was wrong with the headline “Talks continue on the topic of global warming.” It illustrates a correct use of the word “on” to introduce a prepositional phrase: “on the topic of global warming.” Its juxtaposition with “continue” is coincidental. Ditto with the Main Street example.

  6. Indeed. I meant to say I figure that since usages like “continue on the topic” and “continue on main street” are common, as is the use of “carry on” to mean “continue,” it seems that a superfluous “continue on” would turn up often.

    Now, carry on.


  7. I think ”continue on” can be used when one wants to describe an event rather than when one is talking about the act.

  8. I don’t think anyone commenting 3 years ago would bother reading this now, but I do shudder when my friend uses the term ‘continue on’. Worse, I don’t really have the authority to suggest her against using it, seeing that she majors in English and shows the biggest interest in and understanding of language among anyone I’ve met.

    However, one thing that I find the “on” offers is a literary sound device. If you speak like me and always pause a tad too long after verbs, you may find it convenient to use extra words as a means for highlighting your verb.
    “The children continue on [pause for thought]
    with their search for leaves,”
    does sound a little nicer (to me at least) than if you omit “on”, especially if you’re changing the form of the verb “continue”. The sound “on” does seem to catch more attention than “nue”, “nues”, “nued” (heheh maybe not), or “nuing”. Even if it doesn’t, it gives an unchanging auditory identifier for the verb “continue”.
    Obviously not many words get such a lucky treatment, but this is one way of looking at it which wouldn’t make you feel as annoyed.

  9. Superfluity, as I have written about in reviewed journals, is only logically “superfluous”; grammatically it serves the purpose of emphasis. “A red, red, rose” is a very red rose, a “playable piano” (also redundant since a piano is made to be played) means a piano that is very playable.

    “On” in “continue on” serves the same function. The phrase means “move forward forward”. You must be talking about style, not grammar.

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