“eigentlich” is not “actually”

Not really, at least. The two words do share the same idea and depending on context, they can be translations but when it comes to the colloquial use of actually in daily conversations there is one KEY difference:

The Vibe

Actually is often used to convey a certain sense of “Wow!”. Like in this dialogue:

  • “I’ll be in Berlin next week.”
    “Oh, me too actually.”

What actually expresses here is something like “Great! Nice coincidence.” and you could continue with something like “Let’s meet.”

And this vibe is COMPLETELY lacking from eigentlich.

Eigentlich talks about reality, how things are in actuality, but it does it in a contexts where there’s a second reality that kind of clashes with the first. That’s why it often comes with a but nearby.

  • “Ich bin nächste Woche ein Berlin.”
    “Oh, ich eigentlich auch.”

This completely lacks this happy surprise of the English version and instead, it could easily continue with “but I’m super busy, too bad we can’t meet.”

The contradiction is not always that strong and a bit also depends on how you say it, but generally, it’s a good choice to NOT use actually like you use the English actually because most of the time, it’ll just sound out of place or confusing.

If you want to learn more about using eigentlich with lots of examples, check out this article on YourDailyGerman:

The meaning and use of “eigentlich” 





Category: Common Mistakes, Must Have Vocab, Season 1