How to Use “Actually” in English

There are many words in English with multiple uses, but one of the more common ones is the word “actually.” This adverb can occupy several sentence positions and can be used to emphasize a fact, express surprise, correct someone politely, or change topics in a conversation.

Pronunciation

  1. When speaking slowly, we pronounce actually with four syllables:

    /ˈæk tʃu ə ˌli/ (ack choo uh lee).

  2. When speaking quickly and naturally, however, we only use three syllables and drop the /u/ sound:

    /ˈæk tʃə ˌli/ (ack chuh lee).

Usage

1. To emphasize a fact or something that happened

  • The interest on a credit card is actually higher than on a line of credit.
  • Stop listening to gossip. I’ll tell you what he actually said.
  • I was so tired that I actually fell asleep in class.
  • Did you actually see the accident?

2. To show surprise at something unexpected

  • She actually apologized. She’s never apologized to me before!
  • I was putting off booking our trip, but the flights were way cheaper than I expected, actually!
  • I was going to cancel our hike, but he told me that he actually doesn’t mind the rain.
  • They actually sold their house? It’s been on the market for ages!

3. To correct someone politely

  • A: The meeting starts at 2:00. B: Actually, I think the meeting starts at 2:00, not 3:00.
  • A: You can get tickets online. B: The tickets are sold out, actually.
  • A: How long have you been married? B: Actually, I’m divorced now.
  • A: Turn left at the light. B: I’m pretty sure we need to turn right, actually.

4. To introduce a new topic or add information

  • I actually need to ask you something before you go.
  • Actually, before class is dismissed, I want to go over the new schedule.
  • There’s a lot of research to support this, actually.
  • Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.

Note

While actually can mean “currently” in some languages, this usage is not common in North American English.

  • They currently live in Florida.
  • They actually live in Florida.

Actually Vs. Actual

Actually is an adverb and actual is an adjective. While their meanings are similar (actual means real or factual and it can be used for emphasis), they take different positions in a sentence.

The adjective actual is usually found before a noun.

  • The movie was inspired by actual events.
  • This is the actual spot where he proposed.

The adverb actually is usually at the beginning or end of a sentence or before a verb.

  • Actually, I can’t make it tonight after all.
  • I can’t make it tonight, actually.
  • I can’t believe she actually said that.

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