Actually… you may not be using “actually” correctly!

Romance languages like French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese share a close common ancestor with English.  This is both good and bad for students.  A positive is that many words have the same meaning.  They just have different spelling and pronunciation.



However, sometimes we find “false friends.”  For example, the word embarrasada in Spanish doesn’t mean embarrassed. It means “pregnant,” an embarrassing oopsie for anyone using it by accident:

 “My cousin is embarrassed right now, so she’s tired all the time…”  


woman person lady mother mom pregnancy pregnant embarrassed cognate false ESL English

A word that trips up many is the word “Actually.”

In many languages, this word means something like “Now,” or “Currently,” “These days,” or “For example.” In English, it does not.  We use actually to correct an error or a misunderstanding.  For example,

  • “The party is at 7:00, right?”  “Actually, it’s at 9:00.”
  • “Hi Kerry.”  “Actually, my name is Jennifer.”

Because we use it to correct others, it carries with it a sense of scolding.  To someone in the U.S.A., each time you use actually, you are shaking your finger at them.

scolding scold point finger hand actually ESL English

Actually, you’re using “actually” incorrectly!

How can you change your sentences:

Actually, I am exercising a lot.     –>      These days, I’m exercising a lot.

Actually, the United States has a new President.     –>     Now, the U.S. has a new President.

“Do you like sports?”  “Actually, I like soccer.”   –>  “I do.  For example, I like soccer.  I play it three times a week.”

If you think you might have some bad habits in English, ask a native speaker to listen to you and correct you.  If they say, “Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings by correcting you, ” you can reply, “Actually, you would be helping me!”