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Dialog:

Guy 1: I like to paint.

Guy 2: Really? You paint?

Guy 1: Yes.

Guy 2: Okay. So... real / actual paintings?

Guy 1: Yes, real / actual paintings.

Guy 2 is very surprised to find out that Guy 1 paints. Would "real" and "actual" both be natural here or does one of them seem a better choice than the other?

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    Your question is about style rather than grammar or idiom, which the site doesn't address. But, in short, when it comes to dialogue, you can write whatever you like. It's about the way that the characters speak. And if that's the way you conceive them, go for it. Oct 12, 2020 at 9:08
  • I know I can write whatever I like, but I don't want it to sound like really bad English. But are you saying that both could be used naturally in the context? Oct 12, 2020 at 9:15
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    Yes. If you ever listen to people conversing, you will hear any number of repetitions, hesitations, grammar errors, uses of hyperbole and you name it. Few if any people speak in neat grammatical prose! If that's the character you have in mind, go for it! Oct 12, 2020 at 20:26

2 Answers 2

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If you’re talking about a situation where the person is asking if they really paint paintings, as opposed to just painting walls or whatever, for example, then “actual” is much more idiomatic in my opinion.

You’d usually hear something like:

What, like, actual paintings?

Or:

What, actual paintings?

This kind of expression is quite modern and has a bit of a slang feel to it, especially the one where “like” is used.

This kind of expression also usually forms an unnecessary request for clarification. The person knows what they are talking about, but asks the question as a way to express their surprise.

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Either "real" or "actual" could be used here. Fluent or native speakers might say either. Indeed for emphasis you could use both at once.

Guy 2: Okay. So... real, actual paintings?

Guy 1: Yes, real, actual paintings.

This would be a redundancy on the part of Guy 2, but people do in fact talk this way.

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