Actual and eventual as false friends

Actual and eventual as false friends

The words actual and eventual are very often incorrectly used by non-native speakers. German speakers in particular like to use them as translations of aktuell and eventuell. A real-life example is the above picture of the screen of the machine I use to top up (see this post) my chip card in the university canteen. Similar problems may arise for native speakers of Spanish (actual) and French (actuel, actuelle).

The real meaning of actual and eventual

Consulting the dictionary, we find

actual: used to emphasize something that is real or exists in fact

as well as

eventual: happening at the end of a period of time or of a process.

False friends for German speakers

Actual hence means tats├Ąchlich in German. In contrast, 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’. 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 dictionary contains some warnings regarding its (mis-)use. Please also refrain from using to actualize (meaning to make something real, to make something happen) as a translation of the verb aktualisieren (for which correct English translations would be to update or to refresh).

Eventual can also be a false friend, namely as an incorrect translation of eventuell. However, a proper translation of eventuell would be possible or possibly. Eventual translates to the German words schlie├člich, schlussendlich, or letztlich.


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