How to Use Actual, Actually in English: A Top Ten Mistake for Spanish Speakers

One of the top 10 vocabulary mistakes in English made by speakers of Spanish, Italian, French, or other languages derived from Latin comes from confusing the English adjective actual or adverb actually with words that look or sound very similar in the Romance languages, words like actual in Spanish, actuel in French, or attuale in Italian.

In English, actual means real, not current. Actually means really or in fact, not currently or now.

English speakers use actual and actually to clarify something, to correct a mistake or to be more precise.

To illustrate the meaning of actually, the adverb used with a verb, two of our English immersion course students were sporting enough to act out a misunderstanding on a recent excursion to the workshop of the fabulous master furniture makers at Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville, Maine.

English excursion to Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville, Maine.


Lupita: What’s this called?

Rodrigo: Wait a minute. Let me think. A sweep!

Lupita: No, actually it’s called a broom.

Rodrigo: Ah, yes, you sweep with a broom.

Lupita: You got it!

By using the adverb actually, Lupita did not mean to imply that the name broom had changed. She was simply correcting Rodrigo’s mistake. It’s a less formal, and therefore more common, way of saying in fact and then proceeding with the correct information.

As another example, let me ask you a geography question about Camden, Maine, the home of Acadia Center for English Immersion… Which is farther north: Camden or London?

Most visitors to Camden, reasoning that Camden, like the rest of New England, gets considerably more snow than London does, would pick Camden.

English immersion course student on Main St. in Camden, Maine., USA.


Actually, London, at 51.51 degrees north latitude, is much farther north than Camden, at 44.21. In fact, Paris, Bordeaux, and Milan are all farther north than Camden. You would actually have to travel as far south in Italy as Bologna or Genoa to find yourself at the same latitude as Camden, Maine.

False friends is the name we give to words in different languages that look similar but have different meanings. Now that you know the actual meaning of actual and actually, you can avoid this common vocabulary pitfall.

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