How many continents are there?

A continent is a landmass with specific characteristics. Each continent is unique, but they are all characterized by two features: ancient, geologically stable regions and younger geologically active areas. The great mountain ranges of the continents are found in these younger regions. Most have extensive plains or plateaus. All of the continents, except Antarctica, are "wedge-shaped," wider at the north than at the south. 

By convention there are seven continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Antarctica. Some geographers list only six continents, combining Europe and Asia into Eurasia. In parts of the world, students learn that there are just five continents: Eurasia, Australia, Africa, Antarctica, and the Americas. 

To some geographers, however, "continent" is not just a physical term; it also carries cultural connotations. For example, Europe and Asia are physically part of the same landmass, but the two areas are culturally diverse. (That is, the various cultural groups in Asia have more in common with one another than with those of Europe.) 

Islands located near a continent are generally considered, in a geographical sense, part of that continent. Greenland, for example, is politically part of Europe but belongs geographically to North America, as do the islands of the Caribbean and the western North Atlantic Ocean. There are some islands and island groups, however, that are not considered part of any continent, geographically speaking. New Zealand, Hawaii, and French Polynesia are among them. 

Oceania is the collective name for the lands of the Pacific Ocean, including Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Oceania is a convenient way to name these areas, which, with the exception of Australia, are not part of any continent. But Oceania itself is not a continent.
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