Actual and Actually – learn how to use these false friends

The English words ‘actual’ and ‘actually’ are false friends in many languages, so English learners often think they mean one thing when in fact they mean another. Let us help you get them right. Watch this video.

These are very useful words in English. Use them correctly and they’ll help you to sound more natural and polite. But be careful. If you use them wrongly and you could confuse everyone.
Lots of languages have words that look and sound like these words, but mean something different, They’re false friends. You think you know what they mean, but actually they mean something different so they cause misunderstandings. In English actual and actually mean real and really.

The tap in our bathroom stopped working.
So we bought a new one. It cost $100.
And then we had to pay for shipping, so the actual cost was higher.
Yes, we actually spent $120.

So we use actual and actually to say things are really true. They mean something like ‘in fact’. We don’t use them to say things are happening now or existing now. Some languages have similar words with that meaning, but in English they don’t mean currently or at present.

We currently have five sales offices in Asia and we don’t expect that to change. We have no present plans to expand.

So could you change these words and say actually and actual here? If you did, you would change the meaning. If you want to say something is happening at the current time, you need to use expressions like these.
So that’s very important. Actually means in fact or really, not currently. Another example.

Jay. What are our sales like?
Fantastic! We’re doing really well.
Can I see the actual figures?
Sure. I have them right here… Actually, they’re not as good as I thought.

So when I say ‘the actual figures’ do I mean the current figures, the up-to-date ones? No! I mean the real figures. I want to know the exact sales numbers. Now notice how Jay says actually here. He’s telling me he’s surprised by the figures.

It must be really cold outside.
Actually it’s quite warm.
Oh, I’m surprised.

If we think information is going to be a surprise, we often introduce it with actually.

It looks expensive, but actually it’s quite cheap.
Really? How much is it?
I think it’s about 50 bucks.
Really?

So you can use actually to contrast what’s really true with what someone thinks is true. Let’s look at another example and this time, try to work out why I say actually.

Would you like some more coffee?
Oh, actually I’m going to leave in a minute, so no thanks.
Oh, OK.

So why do I say actually here? It’s because I think Jay is expecting a different answer and my answer will be a surprise. Another example. What’s happening here?

Have you got time to talk?
Actually, I’m pretty busy at the moment.
OK. I’ll come back later.

So why does Jay say actually? Same reason as before. He thinks his answer will be a surprise. But something else is happening here too. Jay thinks I might not like his answer. When you’re saying no to a request or giving an answer the other person doesn’t want, you can say actually to soften it. It’s a polite way of giving unpleasant information.

Actually, I’m pretty busy at the moment.
OK. I’ll come back later.

Now there’s one other very common way we use this word. When we say something wrong and we want to correct ourselves, we can say actually.

Do you have some scissors I can borrow?
No, sorry.
OK.
Oh wait a minute. Actually I have one here.
Oh, thank you very much.
You’re very welcome.

So actually shows I’ve changed my mind. You can use it to take back what you said before.

And how long have you been doing karate?
For two and a… For two years.
Uhuh.
Actually one and a half.
Uhuh.

So we use actually to correct ourselves if we say something wrong, and it’s also useful for correcting other people.

We have new rules for cell phones in our office.
Yes, well actually we have one new rule. We have to turn them off in meetings.
Our boss goes crazy when they ring.
Well actually it is annoying for everyone.
Well, actually it rang eight times. I think she was very nice about it, considering.

So actually is a gentle way to correct someone. OK, are you ready for a quiz?
I’ve got three questions for you. First one. Have a look at this sentence. What the missing word here? Is it currently or actually? Let see.

May I speak to Kathy, please?
I’m afraid she’s currently assisting another customer. Can I help?
No, that’s all right. I’ll call back later.

The missing word is currently. When we’re talking about things that are happening now we say currently or at present. Next one. What’s the missing word here? Let’s see.

It was a thriller about love and revenge.
It was based an actual event where a wife killed her husband.
It was very scary.

So the answer is actual. It means the event happened in real life. OK, last question. What’s the missing word here? Well, it could be either, but the meanings would be different. If we’re talking about an up-to-date, present amount, it could be currently. But if we’re talking about a mistake and this is a correction, then the missing word is actually. Let’s see.

You’ve written thirteen dollars, but actually it’s thirty.
Oh, is it?
Actually, that’s my coffee. That’s yours.
Oh.

It was actually. We can use actually to correct what someone says in a gentle way when we want to be polite.
Great – so now you know what these words mean and how we use them in English. Are they false friends in your language? And do you have other false friends? Write and tell us in the comments. Hey, maybe we can make a video about them.
Please make sure you subscribe to this channel so you catch our future videos and see you next Friday! Bye now.

2 thoughts on “Actual and Actually – learn how to use these false friends

  • October 14, 2017 at 5:21 am
    Permalink

    I really love your wonderful videos! Thank you so much for making learning fun!

    Well, recently, I’m confused by shot and shoot, could you make a video explain these two words?

    Another problem I come upon recently is contraction, for example, Rock ‘n’ Roll, hunk o’ junk. Could you make a video explain the rules in contraction?

    Reply
    • October 15, 2017 at 5:23 pm
      Permalink

      Oh these are great ideas xiaojian. Thanks so much! I’m sure we can include something on this.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *