Really Useful Words – ‘Just’ & ‘Actually’


There are certain words that are used very frequently by native English speakers. Their meaning is not always 100% clear, and sometimes they have more than one meaning, but they are very useful and can make a big difference in making your English sound more natural and authentic.

‘Just’ and ‘actually’ are two words that do not always have exact meanings that you will find in your dictionary. They both have very useful and sometimes varied functions. They can be used in subtle ways to connect and express attitude about things we say or write.


So, what does actually actually mean?

Actually can be used in a few different ways and it can also be placed in different positions within a sentence. It is a word that can be incredibly useful.

Actually #1 – to emphasise a fact


  1. It actually takes longer to drive from Dublin to Cork than it takes to fly from Dublin to London.
    Here actually emphasises a fact that is true. It takes two hours to drive from Dublin to Cork but the flight to London is less than one hour.
  2. I looked through the window, but I didn’t actually go in.
    Other ways to express this would be – I didn’t ‘really’ go in or ‘in fact’ I didn’t go in. 
  3. I’ve heard so many different versions of this story, I wish I knew what he actually did.
  4. ‘Do you know Niamh?’
    ‘We’ve emailed each other but we’ve never actually met.’

Actually #2 – to show surprise at something unexpected


  1. It looks like Michael actually arrived on time. I’m a little surprised, he’s usually late.
  2. I didn’t like him at first, but in the end I actually got be really close to him.
  3. I was so tired I actually fell asleep during the meeting.

Actually #3 – to correct someone politely


  1. I don’t work for anybody. I’m self-employed, actually.
  2. I’m not actually English, I’m from Ireland
  3. Actually Brian, the meeting is on Tuesday next week, not Wednesday.
  4. You can even use actually to correct yourself, when you make a mistake or you’re unsure about something.
    I think he said he has two brothers… no, actually, it might be three brothers. 

Actually #4 – to introduce a new topic or add information


  1. Actually, can I ask you about something before we start the lesson?
  2. ‘Have you seen the new Batman movie?’ ‘I’m actually going to see it in the cinema tonight.’
  3. ‘Do you want to go for a coffee?’ ‘I was just about to ask you, actually.

*Notice how the position of actually changes in the three examples above. Actually is quite flexible in where it can go in a sentence.


Actually does not have the meaning of currently or at the moment. It is a false friend in many European languages.


Just #1 –  to express that something happened recently


  1. He’s just gone out to go get lunch.
  2. What did he just say?
  3. Scientists have just started to find ways to study and understand DNA.

Just #2 – as an adverb meaning only


  1. There were just a few people at the party.
  2. She said she just needed a bit of time to relax and destress.
  3. Don’t get angry with me. I’m just telling you what they said. 

Just #3 – as an adverb meaning exactly


  1. That’s just the information I need to understand the situation.
  2. Ruth is just the person for the job.
  3. You look just like your father.

Just #3 – as an adverb meaning simply or absolutely


  1. That’s just perfect.
  2. What he did was just not right.
  3. The whole situation was just crazy.

Just #4 – to soften what we say or make it less confrontational


  1. Could you just turn the music down?
  2. I was just wondering if I could speak to you for a moment?
  3. Can you just calm down?

Can you think of any other ways in which we use actually or just in English that we haven’t mentioned here?

What other really useful words can you think of in English?

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