Define Actually: 4 Ways to Use this Fantastic Adverb

Do you know how to define actually?  Many of my students (who are Spanish) have trouble with this adverb.  How do you use it?  What does it really mean?  

My student Oscar wanted to talk about it today in class and it made me realize that many of you probably are confused as well.

So today I would like to explore it in depth and make sure that you fully understand how to use it too.

Why do we use "actually" so frequently and how can you incorporate it into your daily speech correctly?

What's an Adverb?

An adverb modifies or qualifies the meaning of a verb, adjective, other adverb, clause, and sentence.

"Actually" is a great adverb, and we can use it in so many different situations to help clarify, add information and express our opinions.

Wait a minute.  Do you know what an adverb is?  Just in case you don't, an adverb modifies or qualifies the meaning of a verb, adjective, other adverb, clause, and sentence.

So adverbs tell you how you do something, when you did it etc.

  • She spoke quickly over the phone.
  • She sent the email yesterday.

Back to can we define actually so that you know exactly how and when to use it?

Below are 4 ways that we use actually, with examples to show you them in action.

How to define actually?

1.  refers to the truth or facts of a situation.  Actually is a synonym of "really".

Ex:  "We need to confirm what work the builder is actually doing in the house".

2.  is used to show or emphasize that something someone has said or done is surprising.

Ex:  "She actually believed that he was working all afternoon!"

3.  used when you need to express your thoughts or opinions that contradict what someone else believes to be true or expects.

"Actually,” he said angrily, "I do want to go out to celebrate my birthday".

 4.  used when  you need to correct someone or express an opinion that is different from someone else's. 

"Your job seems rewarding.” “Actually it isn't.  I'm thinking of changing jobs."

Interesting huh.  Not only is it a synonym for really, but it can also be used to correct incorrect information or assumptions and express surprise in relation to what someone says or does.

Other synonyms for Actually:

really, in fact, in actual fact, as a matter of fact, in reality, in actuality, in truth, if truth be told, to tell the truth...

It is quite easy to define actually, but we should talk about a very common mistake with its usage (for Spanish Speaking students in particular).  The issue I am referring to is the confusion between actually and currently.  

This confusion is due to what we call a "false friend"; a word that sounds and looks similar in Spanish (or any language) and English but does not mean the same thing.

“Currently” refers to what is happening right now (or close to now).  


  • I currently work from home.  
  • I currently live in Huleva.  
  • I currently speak two languages.

Getting back to actually…how do we actually use “actually”?

In the sentence above, we could replace actually with really because it is looking for the truth or the true situation. 

  • How do we actually use “actually”?
  • How do we really use “actually”?

Another way that we use “actually” is to show that something someone has done is surprising.

  • I didn't actually think you would quit your job!
  • You actually remembered my birthday!

It can also be used to correct information when someone is misinformed about a situation.

  •  Imagine that you think I don’t like wine.  “Diana would you like a beer?  I know you don’t like wine very much”.  Actually, I’d love a glass of wine”.
  • “This report doesn't have anything to do with what we spoke about over the phone.”  “Actually, that is the wrong report.  Here is the report we were speaking about earlier”.
  • “Do you actually think I would do all that work for free?”  (In this case you could replace actually with really.

Now that you can define actually, I've got a question for you!

You say you want to learn English and I am curious, “What are you actually doing to improve your English?”

If you enjoyed learning how to define actually, I'm sure you would love my free newsletter.  Sign up here today!

Leave your comments below and let’s see if you are actually (really) doing enough to improve your English skills.

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