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I've been trying to figure out how to refer to continents as a concept as opposed to specific continents themselves. For example, I know that the continent of Europe would be translated as 欧洲大陆, or 非洲大陆.

But how do I refer to continents as a whole, countable thing. Like "He went to five continents this summer?"

  • I would say 五大洲. – user58955 Oct 11 '14 at 21:58
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    @user58955 I disagree. 五大洲 is a proper collective noun meaning "the Five Continents" traditionally recognized, namely Asia, Europe, Africa, America (considered as one continent), and Oceania. If the sense required is simply five of the continents (of the seven continents currently commonly recognized, say), I would say that 五個大陸 is perfectly acceptable. – Marc Oct 11 '14 at 22:25
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    @Marc Point taken. If you are referring to five of the seven continents (in which case continent is called 洲), it's better to say 五个(大)洲. – user58955 Oct 11 '14 at 22:53
  • So,saying "他这个暑假去了五个大陆“ would be understandable? – Stephen Oct 12 '14 at 14:53
  • @Stephen No. 大陆 is specifically referring to the continent as opposed to island (e.g. "continental breakfast" vs "English breakfast"). I think user58955's answer fits this context best. – Timothy Gu Oct 16 '14 at 1:14
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这个夏天他去了五个洲。(闲聊天)/这个夏天他去了五大洲(较官方)。

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As a Chinese native speaker, if you want to express "He went to five continents this summer", I will say "他在这个夏天去了五大洲。“Please note that "五大洲" and “五个大陆” are very different. "五大洲" means five commonly recognized continents, including Asia, Africa,Europe... But "大陆" means kind of mainland, for example, "Mainland China" means "中国大陆地区"
Hopes to help you!

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When you use or 大洲, it is usually in a political or cultural sense.

五大洲 He has visited five continents.

洲际导弹 DPRK got ICBM? WTF!

If you use 大陆 to refer continents, you usually emphasize on the geographical sense:

大陆漂移 The Tibet plateau is formed by continental drift.

大陆架 The biosphere on continental shelves is easily affected by human activities.

欧亚大陆 Neanderthals roamed the Eurasia continent a hundred thousand years ago.

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