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Actual vs. Theoretical: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
Actual refers to what is real or existing in fact, while Theoretical pertains to what is based on theory or speculation, not necessarily realized or proven.
Actual vs. Theoretical

Key Differences

Actual is used to describe what exists in reality or has occurred, emphasizing concrete existence or occurrence. Theoretical, in contrast, refers to concepts or ideas that are speculative or based on theory, and may not have been applied or tested in real-world scenarios.
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In science, actual measurements are those obtained from real experiments or observations, reflecting true values or conditions. Theoretical values, however, are derived from models or hypotheses, representing what is expected or predicted according to a theory.
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When discussing events, the actual outcome is what really happened, often compared against expectations or predictions. Theoretical outcomes are those that are anticipated based on certain assumptions or models, without necessarily being observed or achieved.
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In finance and economics, actual figures like sales or profits are real data obtained from business activities. Theoretical models or projections in these fields are based on assumptions and calculations, serving as guides or predictions but not guaranteed to match actual results.
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In everyday language, actual is often used to clarify or emphasize the truth or reality of a situation, distinguishing it from what might be assumed or believed. Theoretical, conversely, is used to describe ideas or plans that are not yet realized, highlighting their speculative or tentative nature.
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Comparison Chart

Nature

Real, concrete, based on fact
Speculative, based on theory or models
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Usage in Science

Measurements or data obtained from experiments
Predictions or values derived from hypotheses
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In Business

Real figures from operations
Projections or models for future performance
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Outcome Perspective

What has really happened or been observed
What is expected or predicted to happen
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General Use

Clarifying truth or reality
Describing tentative or speculative ideas
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Actual and Theoretical Definitions

Actual

Based on real occurrences
The movie is based on actual events.
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Theoretical

Based on theory
His theoretical understanding of physics is excellent.
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Actual

Existing in fact
The actual cost was higher than estimated.
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Theoretical

Concerned with abstract reasoning
Theoretical mathematics often seems abstract.
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Actual

Real, not simulated or imitated
The drill was an actual emergency situation.
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Theoretical

Potential, not actual
The theoretical speed of the machine is very high.
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Actual

Not merely potential or theoretical
Her actual experience differed from expectations.
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Theoretical

Not practical or applied
The model is purely theoretical at this stage.
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Actual

Presently existing
The actual ruler of the country is not the figurehead.
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Theoretical

Speculative, hypothetical
The theoretical benefits of the plan are promising.
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Actual

Relating to a person's acts or deeds; active, practical
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Oct 19, 2023

Theoretical

Of, relating to, or based on theory.
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Oct 19, 2023

Actual

Existing in reality, not just potentially; really acted or acting; occurring in fact.
The actual cost of goods;
The actual case under discussion
The actual government expenses dramatically exceed the budget.
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Theoretical

Restricted to theory; not practical or applied
Theoretical physics.
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Actual

In action at the time being; now existing; current.
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Theoretical

Studying or working to develop theory.
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Actual

Used as intensifier to emphasise a following noun; exact, specific, very.
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Oct 19, 2023

Theoretical

Of or relating to theory; abstract; not empirical.
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Actual

An actual, real one; notably:
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Theoretical

Concerned primarily with theories or hypotheses rather than practical considerations;
Theoretical science
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Actual

(finance) something actually received; real receipts, as distinct from estimated ones.
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Oct 19, 2023

Theoretical

Concerned with theories rather than their practical applications;
Theoretical physics
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Actual

(military) a radio callsign modifier that specifies the commanding officer of the unit or asset denoted by the remainder of the callsign and not the officer's assistant or other designee.
Bravo Six Actual, this is Charlie One. Come in, over. (The radio operator is requesting to speak to the commander of the unit under the call sign "Bravo Six", as opposed to any available member of the unit.)
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Theoretical

Based on specialized theory;
A theoretical analysis
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Actual

(uncountable) Reality, usually with the definite article.
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Actual

Involving or comprising action; active.
Her walking and other actual performances.
Let your holy and pious intention be actual; that is . . . by a special prayer or action, . . . given to God.
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Actual

Existing in act or reality; really acted or acting; in fact; real; - opposed to potential, possible, virtual, speculative, conceivable, theoretical, or nominal; as, the actual cost of goods; the actual case under discussion.
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Actual

In action at the time being; now exiting; present; as the actual situation of the country.
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Actual

Something actually received; real, as distinct from estimated, receipts.
The accounts of revenues supplied . . . were not real receipts: not, in financial language, "actuals," but only Egyptian budget estimates.
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Actual

Presently existing in fact and not merely potential or possible;
The predicted temperature and the actual temperature were markedly different
Actual and imagined conditions
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Actual

Taking place in reality; not pretended or imitated;
We saw the actual wedding on television
Filmed the actual beating
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Actual

Being or reflecting the essential or genuine character of something;
Her actual motive
A literal solitude like a desert
A genuine dilemma
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Actual

Of the nature of fact; having actual existence;
Rocks and trees...the actual world
Actual heroism
The actual things that produced the emotion you experienced
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Actual

Existing in fact whether with lawful authority or not;
De facto segregation is as real as segration imposed by law
A de facto state of war
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Actual

Being or existing at the present moment;
The ship's actual position is 22 miles due south of Key West
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Do theoretical models always reflect reality?

Not necessarily; they are based on assumptions.
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Nov 28, 2023

How is theoretical used in science?

To describe concepts or models based on theory.
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Can actual refer to time?

Yes, like the actual time an event occurred.
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What does actual mean in a report?

It refers to real, observed data or outcomes.
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Are actual results important in research?

Yes, they provide concrete data for analysis.
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Can something be both actual and theoretical?

Rarely, as they represent different realities.
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Is actual used in legal contexts?

Yes, for factual, real situations or evidence.
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Do theoretical studies involve experiments?

They can, but often focus more on abstract reasoning.
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Are theoretical discussions practical?

They can be, but often they’re more speculative.
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Is theoretical knowledge sufficient for application?

Not always; practical experience is often needed.
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Nov 28, 2023

How does actual differ from estimated?

Actual is real; estimated is an approximation.
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Can actual facts be disputed?

Facts are generally concrete, but interpretations may vary.
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Nov 28, 2023

Are theoretical frameworks used in research?

Yes, for guiding hypotheses or analysis.
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Nov 28, 2023

Can theoretical be applied in technology?

Yes, for developing new concepts or models.
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Are actual measurements always accurate?

They aim to be, but can be subject to error.
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Is an actual situation always observable?

Typically, it’s observable or demonstrable.
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Can a theory become actual?

Yes, if proven or realized in practice.
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Is actual synonymous with current?

In some contexts, it can mean the same.
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Nov 28, 2023

Does theoretical imply uncertainty?

Often, as it’s not proven or realized.
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Can actual conditions change?

Yes, they can vary over time.
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Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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