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Today I was tempted to write "in point of fact" and immediately wondered if this expression differed at all from "in fact" or "as a matter of fact." Dictionaries define one with the others. Ultimately, I chose "in fact" simply because it is more concise, and I doubt that I would ever use "in point of fact" or "as a matter of fact" if they are equivalent.

I understand that "in fact" is much more commonly used (perhaps in part because it can be comfortably used mid-sentence, whereas "in point of fact" and "as a matter of fact" are too clunky or interruptive mid-sentence).

However, does anyone know of a salient difference between these three expressions? Semantic or otherwise? In what circumstances would one sacrifice conciseness and choose "in point of fact" or "as a matter of fact" over "in fact"?

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The three expression are actually synonyms with different registers. As a matter of fact and in point of fact sound more formal and as Ngram shows they are by far less common than the more popular and colloquial in fact. It appears that only as a matter of fact has a specific etymology.

As a matter of fact:

Etymology: (from Etymonline)

  • also matter of fact, 1570s as a noun, originally a legal term (translating Latin res facti), "that portion of an enquiry concerned with the truth or falsehood of alleged facts," opposed to matter of law. As an adjective from 1712.

Meaning:

  • actually in (point of) fact I did vote for her, as a matter of fact.

  • Usage notes: used to emphasize the truth of what you are saying. ( from Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms)

In point of fact:

  • in reality or actuality; "in fact, it was a wonder anyone survived"; "painters who are in fact anything but unsophisticated"; "as a matter of fact, he is several inches taller than his father"

In fact:

  • in reality or actuality; "in fact, it was a wonder anyone survived"; "painters who are in fact anything but unsophisticated"; "as a matter of fact, he is several inches taller than his father"

As a side note, I personally tend to use the expression as a matter of fact in formal business conversations.

( source: TFD) .

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    As a matter of fact sounds perfectly colloquial to me—I use it frequently in normal, everyday conversation. And there is one case where it’s only viable option: when it’s used to indicate some level of surprise at the following statement (your own or your interlocutor’s), or if the statement corrects a falsehood or misconception: “And, having done all these tests, did you discover anything new?” — “As a matter of fact, I did, yes.” // “It’s not very good, is it?” — “As a matter of fact, it’s very good!” The other two options here both sound quite odd and jarring to my ears in this context. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 18 '14 at 20:10
  • Could you clarify Josh? The examples below the 2nd and 3rd expressions are the same. They appear interchangeable. Do you have examples to illustrate the difference in register? – Rusty Tuba Nov 19 '14 at 2:46
  • Definition are very similar because, as I said, they are synonyms. To me the first two expressions sound bit more formal and are less common as NGram clearly shows ( and as yourself noted in your question).'As a matter of fact' used to emphasise the truth about what you are saying is used colloquially but it is less common compared to 'actually' for instance. books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Nov 19 '14 at 7:48
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I would use "in fact" to introduce a contradictory statement.

"There shouldn't be any people on the boat. In fact, there are two of them left."

and I would use "as a matter of fact" to support a previous statement.

"There shouldn't be any people on the boat. As a matter of fact, everyone left the boat already 30 minutes ago."

However, I'm not a native speaker and I might be wrong.

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