in senses 1 & 2, from Latin continent-, continens, present participle of continēre, to hold together, contain; in senses 3 & 4, from Latin continent-, continens continuous mass of land, mainland, from continent-, continens, present participle
- Date: 1541
- 1 archaic : container, confines
- 2 archaic : epitome
- 3 : mainland
- 4 a : one of the six or seven great divisions of land on the globe
- b capitalized : the continent of Europe —used with the
A continent is one of several large landmasses on Earth. They are generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, with seven regions commonly regarded as continents – they are (from largest in size to smallest): Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.
Conventionally, "Continents are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water." Many of the seven most commonly recognized continents identified by convention are not discrete landmasses separated by water. The criterion 'large' leads to arbitrary classification: Greenland, with a surface area of 2,166,086 square kilometres (836,330 sq mi) is considered the world's largest island, while Australia, at 7,617,930 square kilometres (2,941,300 sq mi) is deemed to be a continent. Likewise, the ideal criterion that each be a continuous landmass is often disregarded by the inclusion of the continental shelf and oceanic islands, and contradicted by classifying North and South America as one continent; and/or Asia, Europe and Africa as one continent, with no natural separation by water. This anomaly reaches its extreme if the continuous land mass of Europe and Asia is considered to constitute two continents. The Earth's major landmasses are washed upon by a single, continuous World Ocean, which is divided into a number of principal oceanic components by the continents and various geographic criteria.