Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

This actually really is the best way to learn English.

In this episode, Lindsay and Aubrey will show you the fine differences between these two adverbs.

Listen in and learn how to get this right and take a step closer to 99% fluency.

Really VS Actually

The All Ears English team received a question that inspired today’s episode.

Lindsay and Aubrey talk about the words “really” and “actually.”

The listener who sent the question wanted to know the difference between the two.

The listener thinks that they can sometimes be direct synonyms to each other and sometimes not.

Here is the complete question from Alba:

“Dear Lindsay and Michelle. I have doubts in using two words: actually and really. What is the difference between them? For me, they have exactly the same meaning but it seems to me that you use it in the podcast in different situations. I think it can be so interesting to discuss in a new episode. Congratulations for your podcast! Until now I was never motivated to improve my English and with your conversations, everything has changed. What a great initiative from your side and thanks a lot! Best regards.”


In today’s episode, both Lindsay and Aubrey will share how to use them so you can understand the meaning and context and use them yourself.

Lindsay adds that these words are commonly used and this episode will be useful for our listeners because it will be easy to go out there and implement in your own conversations.

How to Use Really and Actually

Lindsay says that “really” and “actually” are both adverbs.

Adverbs are a word or phrase that modifies a description, an action, another adverb or word group.

Aubrey shares that it can be tricky to differentiate the two because if you look at each of them in the dictionary, the word “really” would be defined as actually and “actually” would be defined as really.

She adds that we can actually use them as a synonym but you can also use them differently.

You can use both of them before an opinion.

You do not use them before a fact.

Aubrey’s examples are:

  • “What’s really important is being kind to others.”
  • “What’s actually interesting about the book is the style.”

This is where they are more like synonyms.

In another set of examples, you can use “really” to be synonymous with “very.”

Here is an example from Aubrey:

  • “It’s really cold today!”

In this example, you can’t interchange “really” and “actually.”

It doesn’t sound right if you say “It’s actually cold today!”

“Actually” can be used to denote that something is surprising.

Lindsay mentions with this next example, we are diving a level deeper.

Initially, you can say that “really” and “actually” can be used as synonyms but native English speakers use “actually” more often to express surprise in a conversation.

Here is an example from Aubrey:

  • “This is really hard.”
  • “This is actually hard.”

In the first example, you can see that using really just means the same thing as very because you are sharing that situation is hard.

But if you use “actually” instead, it changes the meaning of the sentence.

You now are sharing that you are surprised that you are experiencing difficulty in the situation.

When you hear the way Aubrey says the example, you will notice the difference in intonation.

You can hear in her voice that she was surprised and didn’t expect the situation to be so hard.

In Aubrey’s next example, she thinks this is what makes differentiating “really” and “actually” a bit tricky.

You can also use “really” to show that you are surprised if you use the right intonation.

  • “This is really hard!”
  • “This really is hard!”

The way Aubrey said these examples shows emphasis on your realization that you are surprised by how hard it is.

Lindsay adds that you are reiterating in the situation because at the beginning you may have thought it wouldn’t be as difficult.

The Dynamic English Language

Aubrey shares that English can be confusing at times.

It would be easier if these words had different meanings but it’s just how the English language is. There are multiple words that mean the same thing but will be used differently.

Lindsay’s advice to the listeners on how they can fully understand differences between words is to constantly consume materials in native English like books, TV shows, podcasts, etc.

This will help you immerse in the English language and easily pick up the way native English speakers use certain words in conversations.

Lindsay also mentions All Ears English episode 488: This is Actually the Most Dynamic Word in the English Language.

In this episode, the All Ears English team discuss the word “actually” and how it is used in different ways.

Definitely check this episode to get a deep dive understanding of the word “actually.”


Aubrey shares that you can use the word “really” in different contexts.

“Really” is used as an interjection to express disbelief or scepticism.

You can also use it to confirm the truth of something.

Here is a short roleplay from Lindsay and Aubrey to show how to use “really” in this context:

Aubrey: I went to Hawaii last summer.

Lindsay: Really? Was it amazing?

Lindsay adds that this is used also as a filler or support.

It facilitates the conversation to keep going. In the roleplay, Lindsay used the word “really” to prompt Aubrey to tell her more about the vacation.

Here is another roleplay between Lindsay and Aubrey where they will use both “actually” and “really” so you can easily differentiate how it is used.

In this roleplay, Aubrey is into cliff jumping and Lindsay is asking about it.

Lindsay: You said you might go cliff jumping this weekend. Did you end up doing that?

Aubrey: Actually, yes! Lindsay: Really? What was it like? Aubrey: It was really scary.

Lindsay: I have actually never even considered going. It seems way too dangerous.

Aubrey: It didn’t really feel dangerous because so many people were doing it safely. But it was just frightening to be up so high.

Lindsay: That’s why I can’t do it. I’m really afraid of heights.

Aubrey: I’m not actually or at least no more than most people.

Aubrey shares that she has gone cliff diving just recently.

Lindsay says that Aubrey would be more likely to do that because she is sort of a daredevil.

In the roleplay, they have used really and actually so often, but it didn’t sound weird because these words are used frequently by native English speakers.


Lindsay warns that these can be overused and you should be careful to not sound repetitive.

Be aware of the nuances in the words between “actually” and “really.”

Aubrey encourages you to keep practising and keep consuming materials that are in English so you can attain that 99% of fluency.

You want to be confident and comfortable to use these words in the right context and correct intonation.

Put in the work to elevate your English skills.

What other words that you often interchange in English?

Share in the comments down below and maybe the All Ears English team can discuss on another episode.

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