Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
how to describe the main point in English using essentially

Have you heard people use the word “essentially” in English?

Is this one of those words that you think you know the meaning of but feel a bit unsure?

This is a very common word to use in English conversation, and so understanding its meaning and usage can be quite helpful.

We’re going to look at what the word “essentially” means, how to use it in conversation, and other similar words you can try too.

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Today we have a question from a listener about the word “essentially” which is likely something you have wondered about too.

First of all I would like to thank all three of you! I first started listening to your podcasts in 2016 around episode 200 when you were talking about the word “literally.” This has all really helped to transform me! I changed my life and way of learning English–and I want to say thank you for that!

I love how you show us real usage in English in so many different ways. Here’s what I want to know more about–the word “essentially.” I am a Thai teacher and I get to work with American students all the time. I hear the word “essentially” all the time, and I want to really understand the meaning. I’m not sure if I truly understand it, so I could use some help.

I hope you can help me to figure this out, and I think this might be helpful to others as well. I just want to try to sound more native in my speaking, and this would help.

Thank you so much,

Josh Eprf

Breaking This Down

You have likely heard somebody use the word “essentially” in conversation.

This is a popular word in English, and therefore one that you want to understand how to use.

The word “essentially” has two very similar meanings.

They are very close if not essentially the same–you can start to see how this word works right there.

Let’s look at what these two definitions are so that you can start to understand them and then use them in conversation.

  1. Basically: This means the same sort of thing which is overall or to break it down. It means that what you are describing is close to or spot on. You may not be perfect in your description, but you are pretty close. So you might say something like “Essentially you need to add these three numbers up to get the answer.” It’s like you are breaking something down for somebody. Another thing that you might say is “To get to the Upper West Side, you need to take the 1, 2, or 3 train. Essentially use any of the numbers in red!”
  2. Mostly: It’s all encompassing and it’s comprehensive, and it’s to the point. It covers a lot and it’s very similar to basically, and this is why the two definitions for “essentially” are so close to one another. It’s not complete perfection but it’s very close. You might say “He’s essentially a great worker, but sometimes he can be a bit lazy.”

These are the definitions that help you to understand what the common word “essentially” really means.

This can help you to think of times when you might use this word, and you will likely find that there are plenty of occasions.

Similar Words To Use

When you start to see and understand the definition of the word “essentially”it all makes sense.

You might also see that there are other words that are very similar in their meaning and usage as well.

Though essentially is a great word to use, you may find that some of these similar words work quite well too.

  • What it boils down to: This is like saying that you are breaking it down to the basics. It’s another way of saying essentially which is to say that it’s close to or at the core, this is the meaning. You might say “You can get there in 20 minutes. What it boils down to is you have to give yourself enough time so you aren’t late.”
  • For the most part: It’s as if to say that everything was a certain way for the majority of the time. It’s like saying that things were mostly what you expected or communicated. You might say “The kids were good for the most part, but they did make a mess.”
  • Basically: You saw above that this is one of the definitions of “essentially.” It can also be used interchangeably, especially since it’s such a close meaning. You might say “You are basically making the same recipe, but just swapping out one ingredient for another.”
  • Mostly: This is another definition and so you see how closely these are linked. You can use mostly in place of essentially in your conversations, and it works just fine. You could say something like “We are mostly done setting up for the event, but we just have a couple more things to finish.”

These are all great alternatives for “essentially” and they work quite well in conversations.

Try using any or all of them to see which you like better in certain situations.


The word “essentially” is extremely helpful in giving directions or describing something.

It’s a great word to try in conversation so that you can see how it feels.

This is one of those words that can really add something to what you are discussing–it gives degrees in a certain way.

Try it out in your conversations in English or maybe on your next IELTS Speaking test and see how much it can add and help you to make connections.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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