fig·​u·​ra·​tive·​ly ˈfi-g(y)ə-rə-tiv-lē How to pronounce figuratively (audio)
: in a figurative way: such as
: with a meaning that is metaphorical rather than literal
Speaking of panic, I recently ran into (figuratively, not literally) a friend who was ranting about giant "bees" digging holes in his lawn.Ron Kujawski
Poor small-town America. During the last gasps of this fevered election, pollsters, zealous campaign foot soldiers and reporters are kicking down its doors, figuratively speaking …Doug Colligan
: in a way intended to represent the form or figure of something or someone having objective reality : in a way that is not purely abstract
Franz Kline, who had always painted figuratively, made his breakthrough in 1949 when he looked at one of his sketches in a Bell-Opticon magnifier, and saw the rough, thrusting horizontals and verticals that became the basis of his new abstract style.Calvin Tomkins

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The Techies have a tall task ahead, both figuratively and literally, against Indian Creek (see: 6-4 junior Indiana commit Faith Wiseman). Brian Haenchen, The Indianapolis Star, 9 Feb. 2023 The Forest Preserve District of Will County is breaking new ground — literally and figuratively — with its trailhead signage. Bill Jones, Chicago Tribune, 25 Jan. 2023 Employees are more likely to quit figuratively—or literally—if their future looks cloudy. Michael Deprisco, Quartz, 8 Nov. 2022 Perhaps not literally – gravity will have a say in that – but certainly figuratively, on multiple levels. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 3 Nov. 2022 Business is sweet, both figuratively and literally, for candy giant Mars, a private company that has revealed some eye-popping sales numbers. Colin Lodewick, Fortune, 22 June 2022 Sunnier days are at hand -- figuratively and, hopefully, literally. al, 16 Mar. 2022 To be sure, doing science even today still necessitates long periods of deep thinking, introspection, and figuratively (occasionally literally) banging your head against the wall. Gabriel A. Silva, Forbes, 20 Jan. 2022 Quite by chance, most of the program under Franz Welser-Most this week runs in high gear, bearing out intensity literally, in performance style, or figuratively, as a creative concept. Zachary Lewis, cleveland, 14 Jan. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'figuratively.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of figuratively was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near figuratively

Cite this Entry

“Figuratively.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Mar. 2023.

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