# Approximately vs. Exactly — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on September 6, 2023
"Approximately" indicates a close estimate or nearness in value, while "exactly" signifies precision and exactness in measurement or description.

## Key Differences

"Approximately" and "exactly" serve as adverbs in English, each conveying a distinct level of precision. When one uses "approximately," they suggest a degree of uncertainty or allowance for deviation. For instance, saying a book has approximately 300 pages conveys it might have a few more or fewer pages. In contrast, "exactly" emphasizes precision and accuracy; if a book has exactly 300 pages, there's no deviation from that number.
Consider the realm of time. If an event starts approximately at 3 pm, there's an implied flexibility, suggesting the event might start a bit before or after 3 pm. On the other hand, if it starts exactly at 3 pm, attendees would expect the commencement to adhere strictly to that time.
In financial scenarios, the distinction becomes even more crucial. A product costing approximately \$50 might cost \$49.50 or \$52, providing a ballpark figure. Yet, if something costs exactly \$50, customers would expect to pay that specific amount without any variance.
"Approximately" generally offers a buffer, ensuring expectations aren't set too rigidly. It's useful in scenarios where pinpoint accuracy isn't feasible or necessary. Meanwhile, "exactly" provides clarity and certainty, eliminating ambiguity, which is vital in contexts where exact measurements or specifics are paramount.
Ultimately, while "approximately" and "exactly" both relate to measurements or descriptions, the former leans towards estimations and the latter towards absolute precision.

## Comparison Chart

### Indication

Estimation or nearness
Precision or exactness

### Usage

When precise numbers aren't necessary or available
When precise numbers are crucial

### Flexibility

Offers a degree of flexibility
Offers no flexibility; it's absolute

### Example Contexts

Time when precision isn't crucial, ballpark figures
Time when precision is vital, exact amounts in finances

### Expectation

Users expect some deviation
Users expect no deviation

## Compare with Definitions

#### Approximately

Close to a certain value but not necessarily exact.
The package weighs approximately 5 pounds.

#### Exactly

In a precise manner.
The clock struck exactly at midnight.

#### Approximately

Used to show that a number is an estimate.
Approximately 200 people attended the event.

#### Exactly

Without any error or deviation.
The replica matches the original exactly.

#### Approximately

Nearly correct or exact.
The journey takes approximately 3 hours.

#### Exactly

Used to emphasize the truth.
That's exactly what I meant.

#### Approximately

Very similar; closely resembling
Sketched an approximate likeness of the suspect.

#### Exactly

To every extent or degree.
The two pictures are exactly the same.

#### Approximately

Signifying an approximation.
He earns approximately \$40,000 a year.

#### Exactly

In an exact manner; accurately.

#### Approximately

To come close to; be nearly the same as
This meat substitute approximates the real thing.

#### Exactly

In all respects; just

#### Approximately

To come near or close, as in degree, nature, or quality.

#### Exactly

As you say. Used to indicate agreement.

#### Approximately

Imprecise but close to in quantity or amount.
In every box of matches there are approximately 40 matchsticks.
Per 100
G of chocolate there is approximately 11.6
G of saturated fat.
...approximately 60 beats per minute.

#### Exactly

Just as it should be;
`Precisely, my lord,' he said

#### Approximately

Used to show that something is almost, but not completely, accurate or exact; roughly
A journey of approximately two hours

#### Exactly

(focus) Precisely, used to provide emphasis.
He did it that way exactly to prove the point.

#### Approximately

Almost exact or correct
The approximate time of the accident.

#### Exactly

Signifies agreement or recognition.
So you're saying that we have only three days left? — Yes, exactly!

#### Approximately

(Botany) Close together but not united.

#### Exactly

(manner) Without approximation; precisely.
Measure exactly so we can be sure it is right.
The edge is not exactly straight.
He divided the coins exactly in half.

To bring near.

#### Exactly

In a precise manner;
She always expressed herself precisely

#### Approximately

To bring together, as cut edges of tissue.

#### Exactly

In an exact manner; precisely according to a rule, standard, or fact; accurately; strictly; correctly; nicely.
His enemies were pleased, for he had acted exactly as their interests required.

#### Approximately

With approximation; so as to approximate; nearly.

#### Exactly

Indicating exactness or preciseness;
He was doing precisely (or exactly) what she had told him to do
It was just as he said--the jewel was gone
It has just enough salt

#### Approximately

(of quantities) imprecise but fairly close to correct;
Lasted approximately an hour
We meet about once a month
Some forty people came
Weighs around a hundred pounds
Roughly \$3,000
Holds 3 gallons, more or less
20 or so people were at the party

#### Exactly

No more and no less than a specified number.
The cake was cut into exactly eight pieces.

#### Approximately

Almost, but not precisely.
The project will finish in approximately two weeks.

## Common Curiosities

#### Does "approximately" always indicate uncertainty?

Not always uncertainty, but it does indicate a degree of flexibility or estimation.

#### If something is "exactly" right, can it be slightly off?

No, "exactly" implies that it is precise without any deviation.

#### When should I use "approximately" in a sentence?

Use "approximately" when indicating a close estimate or when exact precision isn't necessary.

#### Why might someone use "approximately" in financial reports?

They might use "approximately" to give a general figure when precise numbers are unavailable or when pinpoint accuracy isn't necessary.

#### Which is more flexible: "approximately" or "exactly"?

"Approximately" is more flexible, allowing for some variation.

#### Is "approximately" only about numbers?

While often used with numbers, "approximately" can also refer to nearness in other contexts, like time or quality.

#### Can "approximately" and "exactly" be used interchangeably?

No, they convey different levels of precision. "Approximately" suggests an estimate, while "exactly" indicates precision.

#### Is "exactly" always about numbers?

No, "exactly" can also emphasize truth or precision in non-numerical contexts.

#### When might it be crucial to use "exactly" instead of "approximately"?

In situations demanding absolute clarity and precision, like scientific measurements, legal contracts, or specific instructions.

#### Can "exactly" be used to agree with someone?

Yes, in informal contexts, "exactly" can be used to express strong agreement or affirmation.

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