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Actual and actually

from English Grammar Today

Actual

Actual is an adjective meaning ‘true’, ‘real’ and ‘the thing in itself’. It does not refer to time. Actual always comes immediately before the noun it is describing:

We didn’t go to the actual match but we watched it on TV.

People think she is over thirty but her actual age is eighteen.

Spoken English:

Actual is often used in speaking in the expression ‘in actual fact’. It has a similar meaning to ‘in fact’, but it gives more emphasis to what the speaker is saying:

In actual fact, her health a year ago was much worse.

Actually as a discourse marker

Spoken English:

Actually is often used in speaking as a discourse marker. We use it to indicate a new topic of conversation or a change or contrast in what is being talked about. We also use actually to give more detail about a topic. We do not use it to refer to time:

A:

I suppose you’re going away this weekend?

B:

Actually, I am going to stay at home. I’ve got a lot of work to do on the computer.

[a customer (A) in a large bookshop is asking about books about travel.]

A:

Could you tell me where your books on Austria are kept?

B:

What kind of books?

A:

Well, actually I’m looking for a book on skiing in Austria.

B:

Er, yes, they’re in that corner over there.

Actually as contrast

Spoken English:

We can use actually to emphasise a contrast with what is expected to be true or real:

He actually admitted that he enjoyed it. (He was not expected to enjoy it)

A:

Where are they now?

B:

They’re very near to your apartment actually. (They were not expected to be so near)

We can also use actually to correct someone politely:

I think ten people, not eight, came to the meeting, actually.

Actual and actually: typical errors

  • In some languages actual has the meaning of ‘current’ and ‘at the present time’. This is not correct in English:

The current population of the Russian Federation is 230 million.

Not: The actual population of the Russian Federation

At the present time she is working in London.

Not: Actually she is working in London.

(“Actual and actually” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)
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