How to Use the Word “Actually” in English

Imagine trying to speak Portuguese without using words like tipo, sabe, entende, ou seja and quer dizer.

These little words are called discourse markers, and if you’re like most Brazilians you frequently use them while you speak in order to accentuate what you are saying, give yourself more time to think about what you will say next and to add a more natural flow to the conversation.

You use discourse markers unconsciously when you speak Portuguese, but do you use them when you speak English?

The word “actually” is a false cognate and is not the same as atualmente in Portuguese. The word atualmente translates to “currently” in English. A common mistake that Brazilians make is saying things like, “Dilma is actually the president ,” when they really mean to say, “Dilma is currently the president.”

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The word “actually” has several different uses in English and is very common in spoken language. As we will see, it is an important word to learn how to use because it allows you to change your mind about something that you say.

Actually meaning “Thinking again”

This is the most important meaning of “actually” to learn how to use properly. If you say something that you don’t mean and want to take it back, or if you say something incorrectly and want to correct yourself, you can use actually at the beginning of your sentence to signify that you changed your mind. This is similar to how alias is used in Portuguese. For example:

“Do you have a pen I could borrow?”
“No I don’t. Wait! Actually I have one right here.”

“Alberto Santos-Dumont was the American inventor who first invented the airplane. Actually, no, he was Brazilian.”

Actually meaning “In Fact”

This use of the word “actually” means “in fact” and is used to point out something that was unexpected. This usage is similar to how na verdade is used in Portuguese. For example:

“Are you American?”
“Actually, I’m Australian.”

“Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil, right?”
“No, actually it’s Brasilia.”

Actually meaning “Really”

The word “actually” can be used interchangeable with the word “really” in some cases, similar to how realmente is used in Portuguese. It is used to emphasize that something someone has said or done is surprising.  For example:

“Did you hear that Isaac is in Saudi Arabia?”
“I heard, but I can’t believe he was actually able to get a visa to go there.”

“Did you hear what Mary said to Joe at the party last weekend?”
“I can’t believe she actually said that, that was really mean.”

Actually as a “softener”

If you are giving someone unpleasant or unwanted information, “actually” can be used to soften the blow of what you tell them. It is similar to para ser sincero in Portuguese. For example:

“Are you coming to the party next week?”
“No, I have to work actually.”

“Dad can we go to Disneyland?”
“No we can’t. We ran out of money paying for your college actually.”

“You’re still coming tomorrow, right?”
“I won’t be able to make it, actually.”

Discourse markers are a topic that we will cover more in detail in the future. Sign up for our mailing list in order to receive updates for future articles. The inspiration for this article came from the book Como Dizer Tudo em Inglês.

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  • maria

    Awesome,
    It help me a lot.

  • Ahrorxoja

    I really found your topic interesting and useful thanks guys. Keep working in this way

  • Luciano

    You were so clear about the word ‘actually’ It was one of my mistakes !! Thank you

  • sumaiya

    Helpful…..