An actual word is a lexeme that exists in the mental lexicon of the speakers and can be retrieved from there, as opposed to a potential word, which could be used, but has to be formed on the fly by speakers (see Aronoff 1983).
All simple words are actual words, but only some of the complex words are actual words. Probably English happiness is an actual word for most speakers, while mandatoriness is only a potential, but not an actual word for most speakers.
Maybe the term was coined by Aronoff (1976).
- Aronoff, Mark. 1983. Potential words, actual words, productivity and frequency. Proceedings of the 13th International Congress of Linguists, 163-171.
- Bauer, Laurie. 2001. Morphological productivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.