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adverb lit·er·al·ly \ˈli-tə-rə-lē, ˈli-trə-lē, ˈli-tər-lē\

Definition of literally

  1. 1 :  in a literal sense or manner :  actually <took the remark literally> <was literally insane>

  2. 2 :  in effect :  virtually <will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice — Norman Cousins>

Usage Discussion of literally

Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.

Examples of literally in a sentence

  1. … make the whole scene literally glow with the fires of his imagination. —Alfred Kazin, Harper's, December 1968

  2. Even Muff did not miss our periods of companionship, because about that time she grew up and started having literally millions of kittens. —Jean Stafford, Bad Characters, 1954

  3. Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry … than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. —James Joyce, Dubliners, 1914

  4. … yet the wretch, absorbed in his victuals, and naturally of an unutterable dullness, did not make a single remark during dinner, whereas I literally blazed with wit. —William Makepeace Thackeray, Punch, 30 Oct. 1847

  5. Many words can be used both literally and figuratively.

  6. He took her comments literally.

  7. He's a sailor who knows his ropes, literally and figuratively.

  8. The term Mardi Gras literally means Fat Tuesday in French.

  9. The story he told was basically true, even if it wasn't literally true.

Origin of literally

(see 1literal)

First Known Use: 1533

Rhymes with literally

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up literally? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the range of perception or understanding

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