So, how many Continents are there?

Last week I mentioned that CreativeMornings is now on 6 continents, which caused a bit of confusion over how many continents there are.

What I’ve since learned is that there are in fact different models being taught around the world. The seven-continent model is usually taught in China, India and most English-speaking countries. The six-continent combined-Eurasia model is sometimes preferred in the former states of the USSR and Japan. The six-continent combined-America model is taught in Latin America and in some parts of Europe including Greece, Portugal and Spain. I can somewhat understand that we can’t seem to get all of our outlets to be the same, but count of continents? Really?

Check the Wikipedia Entry on this Topic.

71 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Last summer, while au pairing in Germany, I met au pairs from New Zealand, Paris, Zimbabwe and we all had a long, intense debate about how many continents there are! It was fascinating!

  2. When I was at school I was taught that there were 5 continents: europe, asia, austraila, africa and america (combining south and north america). That was a german school in South Korea. At the same time, when I was american TV (that’s the only thing I could understand there) they were talking about seven continets. Very weird…

  3. To be honest, I always think of five continents: America, Asia, Australia, Africa and Europa. (I tend to forget Antarctica.)

  4. 7 Continents is the right number. But your globe is wrong, Australia is not a continent, it’s a country. The continent’s name is Oceania witch includes Australia and the adjacent Pacific islands

  5. There’s only one continent: Pangea, but it seems nobody wants to solve the puzzle :)

  6. I also learned in France 5 continent : Europe, America, Asia, Oceania and Africa. Like the rings in the Olympic Games.

  7. But that was back in time when we also had 9 planets … you know… perception

  8. We teach seven in our preschool—North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Antarctica. There’s even a catchy song about it!

  9. LI’m from Portugal and also learned 5 continents and they taught us that the Olympic Games rings represented each one of them. So I guess they don’t make sense for people who learn 6 or 7 continents…

  10. I’m from Portugal and also learned 5 continents and they taught us that the Olympic Games rings represented each one of them. So I guess they don’t make sense for people who learn 6 or 7 continents…

  11. “I can somewhat understand that we can’t seem to get all of our outlets to be the same, but count of continents? Really?”

    Yes, really. The world is huge with lots of people, these people can see the same land and draw lines on it differently.

    Also, on a map, which side is “up”? Europe on top? How convenient.

  12. so funny… I always learned 7 (I’m american) but I just asked my husband who told me 5 (he is european). Strange!

  13. Either way, what’s strange is that even when in the united states you teach that there are two “americas” you consider yourselves
    ‘americans’.

  14. Australia isn’t a continent, it’s a country. Australasia is what our continent is called.

  15. I like your website/blog, but honestly your last line about failing to appreciate the differences of opinion what is a fairly amorphous concept would indicate a closed/non-playful mind. Shouldn’t we always play with the “facts and rules” we’re given?

  16. As a Latinamerican from a US territory my continents has always been, in Spanish: América, Europa, África, Asia, Oceanía, and Antártida. Here in the continental US when people say “here in America…” I always find myself interrupting with the question: “America, from Tierra del Fuego to the Queen Elizabeth Islands?” just to make them realize that not everyone calls the US, America. For a reason the name says United States of America, emphasis in “of America”.

  17. ‘Most English speaking countries’ say it’s 7? In Australia we are taught 6, and New Zealand, UK and South Africa, are the same:

    The Americas
    Europa
    África
    Asia
    Oceanía
    Antarctica

    I have never in my life heard of 7. Is this only what is taught in the US? Seems that any site mentioning 7 is from the US.

    Interesting topic; thanks for sharing.

  18. I must be an allien ’cause I’ve always believed it was consensual there were 8 continents! Well, maybe not an allien, but sure very stupid! :)

  19. There’s no Antarctica Creative Mornings is there? So, technically, you were right? It IS only on 6 continents, 6 of 7 :)

  20. I am amazed at all the people counting the America’s as one continent, while counting Europe and Asia as two. Clearly, Eurasia is a single land mass, and if land mass is to be the defining characteristic of a continent then it is one continent, not two.

    With respect to the America’s, because the isthmus of Panama is so narrow, it makes sense to me to count it as two.

    I have never accepted the arguments that Australia is not continent unless all of the islands of Oceania are included with it and that Australia itself is an island. No where else in the world do we count a collection of islands as a continent. A continent is defined by Wikipedia simply as a “very large land mass,” and by TheFreeDictionary.com as “one of the earth’s large land masses.” I personally am satisfied that Australia is a continent with the islands of Oceania belonging to its land mass.

    Therefore, I count six continents, though differently from others here, as follows:

    North America
    South America
    Eurasia
    Africa
    Australia
    Antarctica

  21. Emma is right – Australia isn’t a continent, it’s a country. I live in New Zealand and Australasia is the name of our continent.

  22. You all might enjoy this video (http://youtu.be/3uBcq1x7P34) by C.G.P. Grey on this very subject. Apart from his take on continents, his Youtube channel is very much worth subscribing to.

  23. There’s just one continent, “one island”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymaxion_map

  24. Nice video Greg, so everyone can make his continents like he wants…hmmm.
    Interesting due to our times where people always want to have a a “yes or no” answer.

  25. I’m Irish and we are taught about 7 continents, South America was always seperate to North America, Europe, Antartica, Oceania, Africa and Asia. I think it’s so strange about people being taught there was only 5! Didn’t you look at a globe and think ‘where does the antartic fit into this?’ It’s quite big!! And for your teachers to use the olympic rings to demonstrate this…just because antartica is uninhabited and there’ll never be any athletes representing it in the olympic games doesn’t mean it isn’t a continent! It’s scary how deficent our education systems still are

  26. In Czech, we are taught several separate models (which makes everything SO confusing):

    * 6 continent model – Europe, Americas, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and Oceania
    * 7 continent model – EU, S America, N America, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia & Oceania
    * 6 Landmasses (similar to continents) – EuroAsia, N America, S America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and Oceania.

    how wonderful :)

  27. I’m Spanish and when I was a little girl there “were” only 5 continents (Africa, America, Asia, Europa and Oceania), later somehow someone realized Antarctica looked like another one and we started to hear about 6 continents. I remember being quite disturbed by the fact that I saw 6 on my maps despite what my teacher said.

  28. I can’t believe it! There is Central America, not only South and North.
    America is ONE continent with three sub-continents.

  29. >>> I can somewhat understand that we can’t seem to get all of our outlets to be the same, but count of continents? Really?

    Tina, we don’t even agree on how to make a world map. China does it differently…

    No, that’s not a variation in the orthographic projection used — Note that China is much more central in this one.

    I had never seen any layout different from the basic Mercator version using the same scheme — but clearly, people can and do have different ones. I first encountered that in some documentary piece with a scene shot in a Chinese schoolroom — I noticed a world map in the background similar to the link above.

  30. >>> There is Central America, not only South and North.
    America is ONE continent with three sub-continents.

    Sorry, Andrea, there is nothing to delineate “Central” America from the rest of North America.

    With North-vs-South, there is the Isthmus of Panama. With Asia-vs- Europe, there is the Ural mountain range (the standard dividing line when you do delineate the two).

    “Central America” is simply a convenient placeholder to deal with the areas of NortthAm not a part of its “big three”.

  31. Isn´t Greenland a part of Europe? Danish, right?

  32. I can’t believe someone finds surprising that some people count the Americas as one continent, when history mentions the “discovery” of a New World who got the name America after Amerigo Vespucci. If it was considered from a beginning as two different continents probably the north and south will be named differently. Who knows? The division and naming of continents and lands have a lot of different factors, from history, cultural views, and language. Having you notice the comments on Australia, Australasia and Oceania? Each of the different ways of subdividing and naming the regions of the planet are right, our culture defines how we see the world, and this is one way.

  33. There are 6 continents. There is no physiogeological division between Europe and Asia, they are one continent (Eurasia).

  34. I was taught in school that Central America is a continent. Pretty disturbing to change that.

  35. I am from Russia and we always were taught there are 6 continents on our planet. They are Eurasia (because look first what a continent is), Africa, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica. And there are 6 main parts of the world: Europe, Asia, America (whole, north and south continents), Africa, Australia/Oceania, Antarctica.
    Now I live in USA and my husband noticed that I was talking with my daughter about 6 continents. We had to find out that people in different countries were educated different and looks like everybody is right who think there are 6 or 7 continents. But I refer to 6, because Eourope and Asia is one whole landmass.

  36. I live in Nigeria, let the geographers sit down to reach compromise and agree on one( 6 or 7 )

  37. Unfortunately, all geographers in different countries think differently, otherwise we wouldn’t have any discussion :)

  38. I always that America was one continent and not divided into North and South.

  39. I always that America was one continent and not divided into North and South. And, actually 50 yrs ago when I was in school, Antarica was not considered a continent so there were only 5 continents.

  40. I was always taught that America was one continent and not divided into North and South. And, actually 50 yrs ago when I was in school, Antarica was not considered a continent so there were only 5 continents.

  41. I was always taught that America was one continent and not divided into North and South. And, actually 50 yrs ago when I was in school, Antarica was not considered a continent so there were only 5 continents. I was educated under the British system.

  42. I’m from the Dominican Republic, and I was taught about 5 continents: Africa, America (only one), Europe, Asia and Oceania.
    Found this discussion while reading some technical article about GPS where there is a mention of 7 continents, what triggered my memory and started to google for clarifications.

    My opinion is that that the correct model is the one with 6 continents: Africa, America, Eurasia, Australiasia and Antartica.

    Two Americas? it is still the same landmass, if you consider an island as part of a continent, why wouldn’t you consider a contiguous landmass as one?

    Counting Europe and Asia as one, that make sence!

  43. fascinating

  44. Ok I was taught in school there were 6 continents including Antarctica, if you are counting North America and South America as different continents where is Central AMERICA?????!!! For my it’s 6 North and South American are only divisions no different continents, it’s all ONE continent!

  45. Though I was taught 7 continents here in Canada, I now reject that and consider America to be a single continent and NOT a country. Thus there are 6 continents: America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and Antractica.

    The fact that America is a continent and not a country is just common sense. If North America is IN Africa and South Asia is IN Asia, then North and South America are both IN America too. America can’t be IN North America, that would be stupid and also insulting to those of who live in the other 34 countries that are in America.

  46. My original comment contained a typo that I had to correct:

    Though I was taught 7 continents here in Canada, I now reject that and consider America to be a single continent and NOT a country. Thus there are 6 continents: America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and Antractica.

    The fact that America is a continent and not a country is just common sense. If North Africa is IN Africa and South Asia is IN Asia, then North and South America are both IN America too. America can’t be IN North America, that would be stupid and also insulting to those of who live in the other 34 countries that are in America.

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  48. I was taught the 7 continent model, and I always wondered why Europe and Asia were considered one continent, when the word “continent” appeared — in every OTHER instance — to be defined strictly as a (mostly) discreet, landmass of a certain large size separated by almost entirely by WATER (not mountain ranges) from other landmasses. Eurasia is clearly one landmass — so why classify it as two continents? Here is a link to an article from the Columbia University’s “Asia for Educator” website that explores that question and the history behind this arbitrary definition of Europe as a separate continent:

    http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/geography/geo_whatis.html

    It’s fascinating reading from everybody’s posts just how many different models of “continent” exist in different parts of the world. I tend to favor those that stick to defining “continent” in terms of strictly physical geography — because once you bring in other considerations for possible dividing lines (cultures, history, the number of rings on the Olympic flag) the word “continent” begins to lose any meaningful definition.

    But I do contend that, whatever rule one uses to decide what constitutes a continent, and therefore to decide how many continents you would number on the globe, it is only correct if it is CONSISTENT. So, I think a 6 continent model that includes Africa, Antarctica, Eurasia, North America, South America, and Australia, is correct because it is consistent.

    Another consistent model would be a 4 continent model, that groups them as: Americas (both S. and N.), Antarctica, Eurasia-Africa, and Australia. Nobody uses this model, of course, and it’s a fairly useless as a way to think about dividing up the world, because Euroasia-Africa so enormous. But it IS one connected landmass.

    The models that I don’t think work — because they aren’t consistent with their own logic — are those that call North and South America one continent, while dividing Africa, Europe, and Asia into 3. The isthmus connecting the Americas narrows to a mere 77 km — half the width of the Sinai land bridge connecting Africa and Asia — so why would they be considered one continent while Africa’s connection to Asia is ignored — let alone Europe and Asia’s continuity?

    While respecting differing opinions, I would like to issue a challenge to those who define the Americas as one continent and Africa/Europe/Asia as either two or three continents:

    Please post a definition of the word “continent” that accurately describes every continent that you would call a continent, in your model.

  49. If North America and South America are really one continent, then shouldn’t Asia, Europe, AND Africa all be one continent as well? What is dividing Africa from that mix? The Mediterranean? If so, the Caribbean is enough to divide Americas. So either it is one America and one Eurasiafrica, or they’re all divided. I’ll stick with the 7 that I’ve always been taught and is taught in U.S. schools today.

  50. If you really sit back and look at the globe, I think you find 5 continents:

    North America, which includes Greenland
    South America
    Australia
    Antarctica
    Eurasiafrica

  51. I just read on another website that Antarctica should not be considered an continent because it’s an archipelago covered by ice, thus not a single land mass

  52. Alba R, when talking to people from the States who don’t understand that everyone from the Americas–whether that be 1, 2, or 3 continents–is American, ask them what Columbus discovered, then ask them where he landed; not in any of the states.

  53. Alfred, that would only make sense if Columbus named America. he did not.

  54. As most of us know, the name America comes from the first name of explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci was preceded by Christopher Columbus, who is regarded as having discovered America in 1492. Vespucci and Columbus each made four voyages which took them to South America, the Caribbean islands and Central America. German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller coined the German word Amerika in 1507 to mean the land explored by Columbus and Vespucci and it made its’ way into English (and other European languages) within a few years. As far as I can determine, no evidence exists that either man ever laid eyes on the territory of the United States on any of those eight voyages.

    Consider that North Africa is in Africa, South Asia is in Asia and East and West Europe are both in Europe. This is perfectly sensible, since in those names North, South, East and West are adjectives modifying the nouns Africa, Asia and Europe respectively. For the same reason, it follows that North America, South America and Latin America are all in America ― if not, what other land mass are they respectively the North, South and Latin parts of?

    Answering “the Americas” won’t change anything: if “the Germanies” were both parts of Germany and “the Koreas” are both parts of Korea, then “the Americas” must be parts of America too.

    For America to be a place which neither Columbus nor Vespucci ever laid eyes on but exclude the places which they actually sailed to is irrational, absurd and frankly insulting to those of us who live in one of the other 35 countries in America.

  55. Bill, you are right that the U.S. Should not go by America; however, the fact that the north and south share the name America does not make it one continent. Its absurd to think that because continents newly discovered by Europeans centuries ago were both called America that they must always be considered one. If sharing a common name means its the same, then George Foreman’s sons must really ask just be one person.

  56. Kaleb. I realize that Columbus did not name anything America. However if you ask someone from the States what he discovered, their answer will be “America”. Then, if they know where he landed, it’s easy to point out that America encompasses more than the 50 states.

  57. I was born in the United States and I never refer to the country as America. However it’s hard to come up with a nationality to use for the people that live here, other than American. I’ve tried USian and United Statesian, but they’re both clunky. Basically the United States of America is a stupid name for a country.

  58. Often some consider Six and some as Seven. Some argue Five cause there are five circles in Olympics flag. But there are Seven continents, and about the rings in Olympics flags it’s because the participants in Olympics are from five continents and also the Olympics torch passes through the Five continents.

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  61. Im from Brazil and always learned it was 6 continents

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