Spo­ken English

How do we use “re­ally”, “ac­tu­ally” and “in fact” in con­ver­sa­tional English? Read the ex­pla­na­tions and try the ex­er­cises. By ADRIAN DOFF

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Us­ing “re­ally”, “in fact” and “ac­tu­ally”

Ex­er­cise 1

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.

Ex­er­cise 2

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)

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