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Are consecutive and contiguous interchangeable? Or they should be used in different situation? Anyone can tell me how they are different?

I tried to find the two words in Longman dictionary, but it didn't help me a lot.

closed as off-topic by Esoteric Screen Name, user3169, Hellion, Chenmunka, Kinzle B Aug 6 '14 at 9:55

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  • Try looking them up in multiple dictionaries. For example, Oxford should hopefully make the difference (and they are different) more clear: consecutive contiguous. – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 6 '14 at 0:55
  • I looked up the two words in multiple dictionaries like Longman, Oxford(you suggested), Marriam-Webster, and so on, however, their explanations were not sufficiently understandable, somewhat confusing for non-native speakers (IMHO). The two answers below made me understand the difference between the words. – ntalbs Aug 27 '14 at 7:36
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They are certainly not interchangeable.

Consider a sheet of paper. The sheet is contiguous: From any point on the paper you can arrive at any other point on the paper, without ever leaving the paper. If you tear the paper into two or three pieces, it is no longer contiguous: you can't reach a spot on piece B from piece A.

Then consider the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This is a series of consecutive whole numbers: there are no numbers missing in the series. If we instead have the numbers 1, 2, 5, we don't have consecutive numbers anymore because there are numbers missing in the middle of the list. Similarly, if you have the years 2010, 2012, and 2013 they are not consecutive because there's a year missing in the middle.

So, consecutive things can be lined up in a particular order with unit spacing, and there will be no gaps.

A contiguous thing can be linear, planar, spatial, or N-dimensional; as long as you can get from one point in the thing to any other point in the thing without leaving it, it is contiguous.

In the strictest sense, you could consider consecutive to be sort of "one-dimensionally contiguous", but I don't recommend thinking of it that way.

  • I don't think this is correct. "Contiguous" means "touching, adjacent, connecting, next to each other". A sheet of paper isn't any of those (except maybe "connecting"). – Tanner Swett Apr 16 '15 at 1:17
  • @TannerSwett, the paper is "touching or connected throughout in an unbroken sequence" (definition 4 at m-w.com). If you have a better analogy, I'll be happy to hear it. – Hellion Apr 16 '15 at 3:53
  • The word for "connected throughout" is more properly "continuous". "Contiguous" would more properly be applied to a separate piece of paper that is in contact (touching) the first piece. – Jeff Y Dec 6 '15 at 21:51
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Consecutive implies minimal gaps in between. Contiguous implies no gaps in between.

Your average CD Album consists of several consecutive songs - as each song ends, another begins.

Mike Oldfield's "Amarok" album is one contignous song, clocking 1:00:02 of length. Despite there being a "list of songs" you won't be able to discern any breaks between them, nor skip to them - they blend seamlessly into one, contiguous composition without breaks.

A production line that makes sweet rolls first takes one, infinitely long, contiguous roll, and then chops it into separate, bite-sized rolls, packing consecutive small rolls into packages.

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