I know that a fact is a fact and if words are used carefully there’s no real need to remind people that your fact is actual.

Now, that a lot of famous English writers use this construction might be understandable, but that the OED Additions uses this redundancy to define some terms is beyond my comprehension unless it is an accepted redundancy.

  • I'm sure that the OED link you provided me with will throw a message You have reached the page that is unavailable for viewing... to many as it did to me. :(
    – Maulik V
    Sep 1 '14 at 10:09
  • 1
    On the same page you have linked (OED Additions) there should be a defn. #5 of actual defined as an intensifier. Pretty much redundant but very commonly used. I think there might be more to it than that (actual fact vs natural fact - I'm not sure those are even the right 'terms') but I don't have the time at the moment.
    – Frank
    Sep 1 '14 at 10:12
  • Take a close look at the origin of the word "actual" given in dictionaries. It came into Middle English from Old French where it meant "acting, practical". This meaning is pretty much lost in English, but lost meanings are routinely preserved in set phrases. If this is the case, then "actual fact" does not mean "factual fact", it means "acting fact". It is the fact which controls the situation as opposed to a sea of dubious or irrelevant facts.
    – David42
    Mar 14 '20 at 12:41
  • Incidentally, the word "actual" entered Russian too as "актуальный" (aktualniy). Ozhegov's dictionary (1986 edition) gives: "1) Very important for the present. 'An actual topic.' 2) Existing, manifesting itself in reality." It presumably came into Russian from French in the 18th or 19th century. Some of these meanings may still be in French from which they would influence educated English writers who until recently often read French.
    – David42
    Mar 14 '20 at 12:51

In general, actual fact would be redundant. However, there may be limited situations where its use might be justified for emphasis or contrast. Example:

Instead of believing the facts on the Internet about vaccination, you should consult medical journals for the actual facts.

"Facts on the Internet" is being used sarcastically there to mean "myths".


The main definition of the word "actual" is "real" or "up-to-date" -- See "actualize" to understand this meaning better. So an "actual fact" is a real, up-to-date fact. Therefore no redundancy. Compare with this example: "No. He is my step-father. My actual father lives in France."

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