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Published on: Grammar Bites

The meaning(s) of ‘actually’ in Spanish

‘False friends’ / ‘falsos amigos’ are words that sound (or are spelled) similar to another word in a different language, leading people to believe that they have the same meaning. However, this is not usually the case which tends to lead to confusion and mistakes.

Let’s take a look at one of the most popular cases of ‘falsos amigos’!  

In English, we use ‘actually’ to 1) discuss existing facts or 2) to express surprise, astonishment, at an unexpected action or fact. For the first use, ‘actually’ is translated as ‘en realidad, realmente’; and for the second one, we can also use ‘de hecho, sorprendentemente’:

  • His last name sounds Italian, but it’s actually from Germany. Su apellido sue-alunamana italiano, pero en realidad es de alemania.
  • People think that they’re very grouchy, but actually when you get to know them better you find out that they’re very nice. La gente piensa que son muy cascarrabias, pero de hecho cuando los conoces mejor descubres que son muy amables.
  • The plane actually leaves at 10 am, but we have to be at the airport two hours ealier. En realidad el avión sale a las 10 am, pero debemos estar en el aeropuerto dos horas antes.

On the other hand, in Spanish, we use ‘actualmente’ to discuss current events and things that are happening in the present. Thus, its best equivalent in English is ‘currently’:

  • Actualmente el mundo está enfrentando una crisis muy grande. The world is currently dealing with a major crisis.

Similarly, we need to be careful with the English word ‘actual’ which is not the same as the Spanish word ‘actual’: In English, we use ‘actual’ to state facts and truths, to emphasize accurate information. Its Spanish equivalent is ‘real, propiamente dicho’:

  • This is the actual cost after taxes. Este es el costo real, después de calcular los impuestos.
  • The practice test will be on Tuesday; the actual exam will be on Friday. El examen de práctica será el martes; el examen propiamente dicho será el viernes.
  • That painting is a reproduction; the actual painting is in a museum. Esa pintura es una reproducción; la pintura real está en un museo.
In Spanish, the term ‘actual’ means ‘current, contemporary’:
  • No me gusta la música actual; prefiero la música de los 70s. I don’t like contemporary music; I prefer the music from the 70’s.