An actual false friend which you eventually know


The word actual is very often incorrectly used by non-native speakers. German native speakers like to use it as a translation of aktuell, and similar problems arise, for example, for Spanish (actual) and French (actuel, actuelle) native speakers. Since this mistake is very common, I think a post is warranted despite the fact that actual can be found on almost every list of false friends.

In short: the English word actual means tatsächlich in German. The German word aktuell is correctly translated as current or present.

For example, the German phrase “die aktuelle Situation” is correctly translated as “the present/current situation”, but not as “the actual situation” which instead means “die tatsächliche Situation”. Scientists in particular should be very careful to avoid confusing their audience by speaking about “actual data” or “actual results”. The confusion about the meaning of actual is so big that even the Oxford Dictionary contains some warnings regarding its (mis-)use.

Another, closely related, false friend is eventual, which German native speakers often incorrectly use as a translation of eventuell. However, while the German eventuell corresponds to the English word possible, eventual translates to the German words schließlich, schlussendlich, or letztlich.

Finally, I have also seen the word actualize (meaning to make something real, to make something happen) being incorrectly used to mean aktualisieren (correct English translations would update or refresh).


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