How do we use “really”, “actually” and “in fact” in conversational English? Read the explanations and try the exercises. By ADRIAN DOFF
Using “really”, “in fact” and “actually”
Which word from the list do you think goes in each gap? actually | fact | matter | really A. He was red in the face and shaking. You could see he was angry.
B. The weather wasn’t good. In , it was terrible. C. Are you German? — No. We’re Austrian . D. I’ve never been to France, as a of fact. Really, actually and in fact are commonly heard in spoken English. Let’s look at some of the ways you can use them.
You can use really before an adjective, verb or adverb to make it
stronger or to emphasize what you are saying:
The beaches in Cornwall are really amazing.
I really tried to lose weight, but I couldn’t do it.
Really can also mean “It’s true” or “Believe me”, especially if you wish to put special emphasis on the verb:
He really is a very nice person (= You might not believe it, but it’s true.)
I really do like my job, believe it or not.
In questions, really can show that you’re surprised or that you don’t believe something:
Is he really 75? (= I can’t believe it. He looks much younger.) England just beat Germany 4–0. — Really? That’s incredible!
The expression not really can be a “softer” way to say “no”: Do you want to see a film? — Er, not really. No, thanks. Do you think these jeans suit me? — Hmm, not really. (This could mean “I think they look terrible”.)
People often place really at the end of a sentence as a “filler”. It doesn’t add to the meaning, but it can “soften” what is said:
I enjoy living in Berlin really. (= considering everything)
You can use actually to create a contrast — to say that something is the opposite of what you expected or different from what somebody has said:
I thought the lecture would be boring, but actually it was quite interesting.
Instead of “actually”, you can say in fact or as a matter of fact:
I thought it would be boring, but in fact, it was interesting.
Actually, in fact and as a matter of fact can also be used to introduce an explanation or to develop a point:
Are you a student? — Yes. Actually, I’m at Bristol University. There’s a lot of unemployment here. In fact, most young people are out of work.
You can also use these expressions to “soften” what you say and make it sound less direct:
I’ll just use your phone, if you don’t mind. — Well actually, I do mind.” (This sounds a little less unfriendly than just saying “I do mind” or “No, you can’t”.)
These expressions can be used when correcting someone:
This is your baby boy? He’s so sweet! — Actually, she’s a girl.
Often the expressions described here are used as “fillers” in conversation, as in this example:
I’m at Bristol University actually. As a matter of fact, I’m studying law. I’m in my third year, in fact. (= I’m at Bristol University, and I’m studying law in my third year.)
Here, actually, in fact and as a matter of fact don’t add much to the meaning, but maybe they give the speaker time to think.
Choose the best place to add the words in brackets. More than one answer may be possible.
A. Don’t you like football? — No. I find it a bit boring. (not really)
B. Our neighbour seems ordinary, but she has had a very interesting life. (in fact)
C. Did you pay €80 for a haircut? (really)
D. Can I borrow the car?
— Well, I’m using it myself this afternoon. (actually)
E. Those coats are very good value. They’re a bargain. (in fact)