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On which continent would you find Hawaii?

The Answer

Politically, Hawaii is part of North America. Geographically, it is in the region known as Oceania. We assert that Oceania is not really a continent, therefore, Hawaii is not part of any continent.

Since Hawaii is a part of the United States, and the US is in North America, Hawaii is considered politically part of that same continent. However, there is no geographic connection between the islands of Hawaii and mainland North America. They don’t exist on a common tectonic plate, nor are they in close proximity.

If not North America, then what continent?

You could make the argument, as the World Atlas and National Geographic have done, that Hawaii is geographically part of Oceania.

Hawaii, the USA’s 50th state, is geographically located in Polynesia, a subregion of Oceania in the Pacific Ocean.

Is Hawaii a Part of Oceania or North America? – WorldAtlas.com

It’s hard to argue with the World Atlas and National Geographic, but I think I must, because I would contend that Oceania is not technically a continent.

How is continent defined?

  • Merriam Webster – “one of the six or seven great divisions of land on the globe”
  • Cambridge – “one of the seven large land masses on the earth’s surface, surrounded, or mainly surrounded, by sea and usually consisting of various countries”
  • Lexico (Oxford) – “any of the world’s main continuous expanses of land (Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, Australia, Antarctica).”
  • Lexico (Oxford) – (adjective) “able to control movements of the bowels and bladder.”

Hmm, that last one might not be relevant.

By the Merriam Webster definition we could conclude that the “great divisions of land” have been defined by convention and we’d need to check Hawaii against that convention. The other definitions make reference to “large land masses” and “continuous expanses of land”. Hawaii would not reasonably be considered as part of the any continental land mass.

So, I would argue that Hawaii is not part of any continent geographically. It’s a series of volcanic islands arising out of the ocean floor, with no structural connection to any other land masse. But… That would mean that most of Oceania is not part of any continent. Oxford dictionary even defines the continents by name and lists Australia instead of Oceania.

The New World Encyclopedia describes Oceania as a “continental group”. On the National Geographic page cited above about Oceania it says “Australia is the largest landmass on the continent of Australia”. The same source also notes that there are “continental islands” and other types of islands. Continental islands would be those that share the same continental structure of the main land mass of the continent. Hawaii would not fall into this category.

So, what continent is Hawaii on?

I hereby conclude, after considering all of the evidence, that Hawaii is…

  • Politically part of the North American continent
  • Part of the continental group known as Oceania
  • and, Not technically part of any continent

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