Difference Between Island and Continent

Island vs Continent

Is Australia a continent or an island? Why is Greenland considered an island despite being larger in size than Australia? These are questions that are hard to explain until an individual is aware of the meanings of the terms island and continent. Most people, however, are quick to tell that there are 7 continents (some say it is 6 as they combine North and South America and refer to as American continent) in the world and there are hundreds of thousands of islands all over the world. Some islands are larger than many countries of the world though most islands are tiny and lie inside continents. This article takes a closer look at the terms island and continent to come up with the differences between them.

The image that comes to our mind when we talk or hear the word island is that of a tiny mass of land surrounded by water on all its sides. On the other hand, continents are described as large landmasses that are continuous and separated by water bodies. One of the easiest way to differentiate a continent from an island is it’s much larger size. However, this method fails when one finds that Australia that fulfills all requirements of an island is called a continent.


There are 7 continents in the world namely Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, and Australia. Antarctica is the 7th continent of the world. Though, there are some who count it as 6 as they combine North and South America and refer to as American continent. Asia is the largest while Australia is the smallest continent. 

Continents are large landmasses that are separated by large water bodies and contain many countries within them with well-defined political borders. However, there is no water body separating Europe and Asia. There is no definition of the boundary separating Europe and Asia. Some writers call it Eurasia because of this reason. Geologically speaking, it should be one single continent. The boundaries between continents have been decided by convention rather than any scientific criteria.

Apart from being large landmasses, there are some more characteristics of continents. These large pieces of land also have stable continental crust that is different from the crusts of other continents. Every continent also has unique flora and fauna, in addition to unique and distinct cultures of human populations. It is seen that people belonging to a particular continent have belief in their minds about their continent’s status.


Island is described as a sub continental land mass that is surrounded by water on all its sides. The land mass is rather small and is protruding above water. However, this definition does not mention the size beyond which an island becomes a continent. Sometimes, there are many small islands grouped together. Such an arrangement is labeled as an archipelago. Small islands are also referred to as cays or inlets. One should not think of the island as a floating mass of land over a water body.

Going by the definition of an island, Australia is an island, but it is labeled as a continent. Greenland is one island that is mammoth and much bigger than most countries of the world having an area of more than 2.1 million sq. km.

What is the difference between Island and Continent?

• There are 7 continents of the world while there are thousands of islands all over the world.

• Continents in general are much bigger in size than islands and contain many countries within them with well-defined political borders though there is no size defined, beyond which an island classifies to be called a continent.

• Australia, the smallest continent, is basically an island.

• Greenland is a very large island that is bigger than many countries of the world.

• Every continent has a unique culture and flora and fauna.

  • Pete Wagner

    It didn’t explain the non-water separation between Asia and Europe.