This is a lesson on two words/phrases that can make a real difference to your speaking – actually and in fact. They’re great to learn because they:
very common in speech
add meaning to what you say
help you say more
How do you use them?
They’re actually very flexible and can be used in different ways – some of which I explain below. In general they help your coherence and they can work as linking words/phrases – they’re used to
add detail/more precise information
add a different point
Below I talk you through some of examples of this and show you some more precise ways you can use these words to help your speaking.
To say something surprising
One way we use these words is to emphasise something that is unusual or surprising and not what most people would think. Look at the two examples below to see how this can work. In both cases the answer is an unexpected one.
Why did you choose that job?
A lot of people think that accountancy is boring – actually it’s fascinating – you spend most of your time talking to people who run businesses and you get to see how different businesses work.
What have you learnt from your studies?
In fact very little that is useful. I spend most of my time learning theory but for me learning about the practice of law would be much more useful.
To add a point with more detailed information
This is a connected use. The idea here is you say something quite general and then you add something that is much more precise/detailed.
Moving from the general to the more specific is an excellent speaking skill and can help you say more. Look at these examples to see how it can work:
Do you like your home town?
I do quite like it yes. It’s a very peaceful community and has a nice atmosphere. It’s actually been voted the best place to live in in the region several times.
Where do your parents live?
They live quite near me. In fact we’re nearly next-door neighbours as we are on the same street and they live just a few doors down form me.
To make a contradiction
This is again a similar use but is stronger. This time when we are saying different to what we have just said – contradicting ourselves slightly. Sometimes we also use it to contradict something in the question. Note that we sometimes use it in connection with words like but or although when we use it like this.
Has your home town changed much since you were a child?
No not really it’s really much the same. Actually though now I come to think of it there have been quite a few changes. The central area doesn’t have nearly so many shops nowadays – the out of town supermarkets have taken over.
Which room in your house do you like most?
In fact there aren’t any rooms I like at all. I don’t feel at home there and it’s just a place to live. I’m hoping to buy or rent somewhere different quite soon. It’s important to me to feel at home.
To make an admission
This one is slightly different again. Here you use the words to admit something negative – this could be when you don’t know the answer!
When did you learn to ride a bicycle?
Actually I can’t ride a bike, My parents tried to teach when I was little but I kept falling off so they gave up. I really regret that now as it would be so useful to cycle into work.
What kinds of dance are popular in your country?
I know very little about dance. In fact I know absolutely nothing about it. I know that lots of people are into it and there are popular reality tv shows about it but I don’t watch them- so I can’t really answer that question.
To emphasise something is true
This is slightly different again. This time you are emphasising that something is true/real – perhaps in a surprising way:
Do you like walking in parks?
Yes I do. I actually went on a special tour of the country to visit all the major parks.
Do you remember your first day at school?
This might surprise you but I do even if it’s a long time ago. In fact my parents made a film of me walking to school and we watch it quite often. It’s hilarious now.
How to learn these words
Look at more online resources
This is just a quick explanation mostly for IELTS speaking and not a complete usage guide. To learn more you can check out
Practise on speaking questions
You can look at some of sample speaking questions and decide how you might use them to extend your answer in a coherent way.