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Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 2/14/2012

Most problems surrounding these words for English speakers who are learning Spanish is realizing how they are using them. This article shows the two basic meanings of actual and actually in English and offers a number of examples of how Spanish handles them.

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    Do you mean "now" or "for real"?

    The two fundamental meanings of the English word actual have to do with whether you mean something is real as in not fake or artificial, or whether you mean something is current, as in happening in the present, or up to date.

    Here are examples of how to use actual and actually correctly in Spanish.

    First, it often helps English speakers to remember that the Spanish adjective actual does not mean "real" but "current." The noun actualidades means current events, as in the news. It's even a section in the newspaper and a segment of broadcast news programs. If you can remember that, you may avoid the incorrect use of actual.

    Consider these examples:

    El director actual se llama Geraldo (The current/present director is named Gerald).

    La guerra actual en el Medio Oriente nos preocupa mucho (The current/present war in the Middle East worries us).

    When you really do mean "real" use verdadero or real or efectivo. Observe these examples. It might even help to memorize them if "actual" is a recurring problem for you. Note that real can also mean royal, as in la familia real (the royal family).

    Juana es una amiga verdadera (Jane is a real/true friend). You could also use real or even efectiva instead of verdadera in this sentence.

    La historia verdadera fue que Juan nunca robó nada (The real story was that John never stole anything). Note how real means true in the English translation?

    The phrases en realidad or a decir [la] verdad correspond to the use of actually, when in English you mean in truth, the truth be told or to tell the truth. Examples:

    En realidad, no les gustan las anchoas (Actually, they don't like anchovies).

    Ella le traicionó, a decir verdad (She cheated on him, the truth be told).

    Finally, when turned into an adverb -- actualmente, or used in a prepositional phrase -- en la actualidad -- you can see how it means nowadays, or at the moment:

    Mis padres actualmente viajan por Europa (My parents are currently traveling in Europe).

    Ella trabaja en un restaurante en la actualidad (She works in a restaurant right now/nowadays).

Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
  1. Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"
  2. Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
  9. Using "Anyway..." in Spanish
  10. Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
  14. Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
  20. Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
  25. The Word "Country" in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
  28. How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with... In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
  31. Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
  33. Do You Mean "Fair" Weather, a "Fair" Game or a "Fair" Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting -- Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing... and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
  37. Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word "Find"
  38. Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal