True or Real?

    20 August 2021

    This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from an English learner in South Korea who recently began using our website. The reader says:


    Dear VOA, I want to know the difference between "true" and "real." Would you tell me? Thank you very much.


    Hello and thanks for asking this useful question.

    I am an English teacher. But when I study other languages, sometimes I also confuse these two adjectives.

    In English, "true" and "real" have clear differences. Let's start with "true."

    "True" means something is factually correct. Knowing its opposite is helpful. The opposite of true is false, or incorrect.

    Take this as an example: "Did you know that flamingo birds feed their babies with a red liquid called ‘crop milk'? It's true." That means it is factual.

    "Real" means actually existing or happening. The opposite of real is fictional or imaginary.

    Take this sentence as an example: "I just learned that narwhals are real animals." That means that they are not imaginary creatures. They actually exist.

    "Real" can also mean authentic. For example, if someone says, "This jewel is real," they are saying the stone is authentic.

    Truly and really

    Now let's talk about adverbs. When "true" and "real" take adverb form, some English learners may be unsure which to choose. The good news is that, as adverbs, both of these words often mean something like "very."

    For example, if someone says, "I am truly sorry" it is like saying, "I am really sorry." If someone says, "It was really hot this morning," it's like saying, "It was truly hot this morning."

    Note that "really" is more common than "truly" in spoken English.

    And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

    I'm Alice Bryant.

    Alice Bryant wrote this lesson for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    confuse - v. to make someone uncertain or unable to understand something

    fictional - adj. of or relating to something that is invented by the imagination

    narwhal - n. a medium-sized whale that has a large "tusk" from a protruding canine tooth

    authentic - n. not copied or fake