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Mar 31, 2021

The Difference Between Current, Currently, Actual And Actually

You would be surprised how often these words are confused or used incorrectly in English. They are often referred to as "false friends", because when you translate them, you think they mean the same in your native language as in English, however they are not. This then leads to some confusion among the people who are listening to you and obviously makes your English sound less fluent. 


So, with that being the case, today I thought I would share a little episode with you on how you can use these words correctly and explain the common mistakes that people, especially Spanish speakers make. 


Let's get to it. 


Current & Currently

Current is both an adjective and a noun, when we use current as a noun we are referring to the movement of water in the sea or in a river. For example, if someone gets caught in a current, then they can get taken out to sea. 


We can also use current as a noun to describe the flow of air. Planes can experience turbulence when there are changes in the air currents, or you can experience a refreshing current of air on a warm summers day as it moves through your house. 


Lastly, we can also use current when we are talking about the flow of electricity, as we can have an electrical current moving through something. 


When we use current as an adjective we are in fact referring to something that is present time, or belonging to the present. It is when we use current as an adjective when we run into problems. 


The word currently is an adverb that is used to mean at the present time. We use it when we are talking about things that we are doing in the present. For example:


Currently, I am learning to play the guitar. 

Actual and Actually

Actual is an adjective that means "real" or "something factual". While actually, is an adverb and is used to state the truth or facts, as well as to express surprise or to add additional information. 


Look at these examples:

"The quote we were originally given was much less than the actual price we ended up paying.(meaning real)


"We need to understand what the market is actually doing, instead of just reacting to changes." (meaning really)


"I can't believe you actually trusted him. Everyone knows he is a liar." (meaning you're surprised)


"John said he would be late to the meeting, he said to start without him actually." (meaning additional information, actually could go at the beginning or end of the second clause)

Common mistakes made

Typically the most common mistakes made with current/currently and actual/actually is that in other languages (not English) they can look like they mean the same thing, so people make a direct translation.


Let me demonstrate with the following examples:


With German, actual means  "tatsächlich, and actually means eigentlich”, not “aktuell”.


Similarly in Spanish, actual means, "real, verdadero, mismo, concreto" and actually means "de hecho", not "actualmente".


So, if you want to use the adverb "actualmente" in English, you would need to use, "currently", "at present" or "at the moment".  


Conversely, if you want to use the Spanish word "actual", then in English you would need to say current. For example, compare the two sentences below:


English: "The current problem we face is rising transportation costs".


Spanish: "El problema actual al que nos enfrentamos es el aumento de los costes de transporte."

Final thoughts


As I am sure you will agree, this all sounds a little bit confusing, especially when we may already be used to using these words in English. However, it is an important lesson to learn and an important distinction to make. Using these words correctly is very important for your English and for making sure you do not confuse people, especially at work. 


I hope you have found this lesson useful and interesting. Please let me know your thoughts by commenting below. 


If you are looking to improve your English grammar skills then take a look at my list of general English courses below. 


See you all next week for more free episodes of The Art of Business English.