‘Actually’ is actually a false friend

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.11.23 AM‘ACTUALLY’ IS A FALSE FRIEND. A really mean one at that, as it’s not easy for a native speaker to explain its meaning.

In almost every English class that I give, one of my students uses the word “actually” incorrectly. It surprises me that there aren’t more online posts for English learners, seeing as it’s so commonly misused. So I’ll go ahead and tell you why this devil of a word is a false friend, and how to actually use it.
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The Spanish word, ‘actualmente’, means ‘CURRENTLY’ in English. It means ‘right now, in this moment’.

e.g. I’m currently working on my book.

He is currently in a meeting.

There is currently a coalition government in the UK.


‘Actually’, translated into Spanish, actually means de verdad, de hecho. 


Actually is an Adverb. In English, it is used in the following ways:

1)   To mean in fact, in reality, and to contradict or correct an established point of view.

That dog is actually a Labrador, not a Retriever.


2)   To express wonder or surprise.

I actually met Jonny Depp!


3)   As a sentence filler, used to add emphasis [informal].

I didn’t know that, actually.


 4)   The word ‘actually’ on it’s own can be a one word signal that tells us that something is not as it seems.

Katie: I’m so glad that no one saw me kissing Sergio!

Helen: Well… actually

Katie: What?! Someone saw us??

Helen: I heard Luismi talking to Roger in the lunchroom about it today!

In this dialogue, just the word ‘actually’ was enough to tell Katie that she been caught kissing Sergio.


Here are some more examples, so that you can see it in use:

I’m actually really tired; I’m going to bed.

He’s really hot, actually.

“Did you know that Tom’s moved away?” “I didn’t know that, actually.”


So now you actually know how to use the word ‘actually’! In this clip from the beginning of the British hit film, ‘Love Actually’, star Hugh Grant tells us why he thinks “love actually is all around”. Tomorrow I’ll be back with more pearls of English wisdom!


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