Easily Confused Words: Actuality vs. Actually

Actuality and actually are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Actuality (pronounced “ack-tyoo-owl-litty”) is a noun. It means something that is now able to happen, something in reality. In the recent past, that something may have been a fantasy or a nice idea, but that’s no longer the case.

Actually (pronounced “ack-tyoo-ully” ) is an adverb. It describes something that is truth, in existence, or in real life.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Achmet was being urged to go into law like his mother. They were having a discussion about the future on the way home from church.

“What do you want to do with your life, Achmet?” she asked.

“Actually, mother, I’d like to pursue environmental engineering. I’d want to dream better ways to help the world run its cars and homes and machines, and make those things an actuality.”

“Oh. Is that a real thing?”

“Yes, mother. Yes it is.”


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