Word Confusion: Actual versus Actually

Posted October 1, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I was looking through my list of yet-to-be-defined word confusions when my niece requested this one. And she got me to thinkin’… Scary, huh?

There’s a good reason why these two are confusing, since both actual and actually are about the real.

Actual refers to the real, true thing. The actual event, object, topic, etc., e.g., “People think she is over thirty but her actual age is eighteen.”

Think actual fact. If it fits, then actual is what you want.

Actually has two purposes. The first is usually used to introduce a switch in topic, a discourse marker.

One example of this is:

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.”

The second is used to give more detail about a topic, e.g., “Well, actually I’m looking for a book on folk art painting in Norway.”

The above examples are courtesy of English Practice.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Actual Actually
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: actually


King’s Landing in Game Of Thrones, courtesy of HBO, is in a post by Genevieve Sarah Loh, “Actual Game Of Thrones sets to open as tourist attractions by 2019” at CNA Lifestyle.

You Game of Thrones fans oughta read Loh’s post about this actual tourist attraction HBO will be creating once the final season is shot.

Part of a hand holding pita bread filled with falafel, yogurt, and lettuce

Actually, It’s Falafel! by Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States, was uploaded by Fæ and is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

It may look like meatballs, but…

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Adverb

Always comes immediately before the noun it is describing

Existing in act or fact

  • Typically as contrasted with what was intended, expected, or believed
  • Used to emphasize the important aspect of something
  • Real

Existing now

  • Current
  • Present

[Obsolete] Pertaining to or involving acts or action

Really, in fact

As the truth or facts of a situation

  • Really

[Grammar; sentence adverb] Used to emphasize that something someone has said or done is surprising

  • Used when expressing a contradictory or unexpected opinion or correcting someone
  • Used to introduce a new topic or to add information to a previous statement

[Informal] A parenthetic filler used to add slight emphasis

The estimate was much less than the actual cost.

Those were his actual words.

The book could be condensed into half the space, but what of the actual content?

Honey, we are supposed to be using actual income to measure expected income.

People talk as if he were a monster — in actual fact he was a very kind guy.

We must pay attention to what young people are actually doing.

Yes, yes, but what was the time actually worked on the job?

He actually expected me to be pleased about it!

“Tom isn’t happy, actually, not any more.”

He had a thick Brooklyn accent — he sounded like my grandfather actually.

I don’t know, actually.

Adjective: nonactual
Noun: actuality, actualities, actualization, actualness, nonactualness
Verb: actualize, actualized, actualizing
History of the Word:
Middle English, from the Old French actuel meaning active, practical, from the late Latin actualis, which is from actus. Late Middle English word dating back to 1400–50.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

The cropped Wow, that piece of banana is actually on fire! by Shankar S is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Flickr.

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