Our deputy manager is the virtual head of the business.

In this sentence the manager is the real person who in charge.

There will be a virtual presenter and virtual guests who will help create the atmosphere of a beauty contest.

Here the presenter and guests are all fake.

This virtual really confuses me.

  • 1
    Have you read the meanings of virtual in a dictionary? Is there anything about this definition that you find unclear? Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 8:05
  • 2
    Essentially "virtual" means "not-real, but giving the impression of being real".
    – Urbycoz
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 8:06
  • @MattЭллен in my English-Chinese dictionary it uses both real and void to describe virtual. Anyway thanks for the link, I will go through it.
    – Deqing
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 8:17
  • 4
    "in my English-Chinese dictionary it uses both real and void to describe virtual." That's key information, and it serves two purposes: (1) it lets others know that you've done some preliminary research, and (2) it helps others understand where your source of confusion is. It would be good advice to carefully include such clarifications into future questions if you continue to ask questions here at EL&U. Context (where you found these sentences) helps, too. In general, questions which include such details are better received than those where the background information is scant.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 9:04
  • 1
    Note "Virtually" gives the sentences almost opposite meaning. "Our deputy is virtually the head of the business" means he's not the designated head, but he does all the real work and is the head for all practical purposes except in the name.
    – SF.
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 9:42

5 Answers 5


In both sentences, virtual means the same thing -- something that has the appearance and behavior of the real thing, but is not actually the real thing.

The "virtual head" of a business appears and acts as if he were the real head of the business. It is as if he were the head of the business, but he is not actually the head of the business.

The "virtual guests" appear and behave like real guests. It is as if they were real guests, but they are not actual guests.


The concept real doesn't really apply. Virtual in these instances mean effectively but not literally or formally.

The deputy manager acts or serves as the head of the business even if someone else has the title.

The presenter and guests will be participating in the meeting by voice, image or text or a combination, but will not be physically present in the room.

In both cases there is a reality about the role or the involvement, there is just not a traditional completeness about the status or presence.


In the first sentence your manager is not really the head of the business but rather a proxy.

The second sentence sounds more like maybe a Max Headroom style presenter or actors pretending to be in a beauty contest to give the feel in some sort of open house. I would be able to elaborate better with the rest of the story.

Either way, Virtual is used the way it should be used in both cases and not contradictory.



Virtual means “apparent, but not in fact”. Sometimes it means “not in fact but nearly so”. Examples:

  • virtual memory – apparently (to the program) but not in fact the physical memory of the machine

  • virtual reality – apparently (to the observer) but not in fact physical reality; simulated reality

  • virtual particle – an unobservable particle which might temporarily come into existence during a particle reaction; the possibility that it might exist briefly is necessary for the mathematics to correctly predict how particles behave, but will never be demonstrated in fact as a physical observation

  • a virtual certainty – not in fact a complete certainty, but nearly so

  • a virtual failure – not in fact a complete failure, but nearly so


Similarly, the adverb form virtually can also mean either “apparently, but not in fact” or “not in fact but nearly so”. Examples:

  • “Makes your dishes virtually spotless!” – makes your dishes apparently (or nearly), but not in fact, spotless (a classic bit of advertising hyperbole)

  • virtually agree to something – apparently agree by not expressing disagreement, without in fact agreeing

  • virtually present – apparently present (in virtual reality, or present by representative or proxy), but not in fact present

  • virtually paralyzed – not paralyzed in fact, but nearly so

  • the example is very bad. The common usage of "Virtually" is almost antonymous to "virtual". While "virtual" is "in name only; not for real", "virtually" means "almost; not in the name, but for all practical purposes."
    – SF.
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 13:15
  • You can always replace "virtually" with "not" for improved honesty. It just means they’re trying to hoodwink you.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 20:48

Virtual in your context, I believe, does mean fake. However, it is not just some fake, but it represents the idea of becoming as realistic as possible giving the observer the illusion that it is real. Hence, virtual is something fake that is nearly real.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.