A practical use of “actually” in conversations

Managing simple conversational situations outside “business hours” is an important skill.

Native or fluent speakers of English often use a variety of conversation filler expressions in informal conversations.

But how comfortable do we non-native speakers feel about using them?

In a foreign language we usually focus a lot on correct grammar and vocabulary when speaking.

We tend to pay less attention to applying complementary conversational forms that native speakers usually use.

One frequent “invisible” conversation filler word is “actually”.

A typical function of this word is to shape the tone of what we are saying.

It helps to make a comment or a question sound less direct.

Or, the correction of some information to sound less dramatic or serious.

Let’s take a look at a concrete example.

Compare these two conversation fragments: ⤵️


A: Did you see the match last night?

B: No, actually I didn’t. Did you?

A: Yeah, I did. It was a great match.


A: Did you see the match last night?

B: No, I didn’t.

A: It was a great match.

Both conversations begin with the same question: “Did you see the match last night?”.

  • In conversation 1 Speaker B replies: “No, actually I didn’t. Did you?”
  • In Conversation 2 Speaker B simply replies: “No, I didn’t.”

Both are grammatically correct answers. Yet the second one may appear less friendly.

1-Minute Tip ⏳

When you want to make sure that your answer or comment sounds friendly, adding “actually” can help have that effect instantly.

In the example above, the word “actually” made the first dialogue fragment sound friendlier.

It simply relaxes a more rigid sounding “No, I didn’t”.

Depending on the question and the intonation, it can add a tone of surprise, curiosity or other.

But the main point is: as a result, the answer sounds less “cold”.

By saying “No, actually I didn’t”, you can sound more interested than just saying “No, I didn’t”.

If you only respond with a dry “No, I didn’t”, then the other speaker may perceive that you are not interested in talking about the topic.

Of course, the way you say things (intonation) also plays a significant role in what the listener understands. It is possible to say “No, I didn’t” in many different ways, including a friendly and interested way.

However, adding “actually” is a quick and practical option that does the same job very well.

Click the image below to listen to the two versions of the full conversation: 👇

Using “actually” in conversations

“Actually” is only one of several conversation filler words we use in English.

The content I share with you is from my 20+ years teaching experience. I don’t use AI to compose or think for me.

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Connect | Gábor Légrádi | MA, RSA/CTEFLA

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