For example, let's say Person A says "1 plus 1 is 3". Then Person B can either say "It's not 3, it's 2" or "It's actually 2".

What if Person B says "It's not actually 3, it's 2"? Does the negation "not" apply to "actually" or "3"? As far as I know, it's supposed to apply to "actually". If true, what does it mean exactly? And will the meaning change if you swap "not" and "actually"?

1 Answer 1


Actually (in fact) qualifies the statement "It's not 3".

Actually, it's not 3.

It's actually not 3.

It's not actually 3.

all mean the same. I find what B said the least logical way of expressing it, but this order of words is commonly used in casual speech.

  • Sorry, what do you mean exactly by "qualifies"? Does the statement become stronger or weaker?
    – Max
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 21:07
  • It's a form of emphasis. It makes the statement stronger, contradicting what may have been thought. It underlines the whole proposition. If it's negated as "not actually" the scope is the same: the whole statement. It's definitely 2, it's definitely not 3. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 0:08
  • @JackO'Flaherty Regarding what Kate said, it should also apply if I replaced "actually" with "really" right? Given that both words are synonymous.
    – Max
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 1:01
  • @Max It's about the same, but it has a different tone. To me, "actually" is politely presenting what the speaker thinks may be new to the hearer; "really" may be less carefully polite and more insistent. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 1:04
  • You could also replace it with In fact/As a matter of fact. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 8:03

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