literal

1 of 2

adjective

lit·​er·​al ˈli-t(ə-)rəl How to pronounce literal (audio)
1
a
: according with the letter of the scriptures
adheres to a literal reading of the passage
b
: adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression : actual
liberty in the literal sense is impossibleB. N. Cardozo
c
: free from exaggeration or embellishment
the literal truth
d
: characterized by a concern mainly with facts
a very literal man
2
: of, relating to, or expressed in letters
The distress signal SOS has no literal meaning.
3
: reproduced word for word : exact, verbatim
a literal translation
literality noun
literalness noun

literal

2 of 2

noun

: a small error usually of a single letter (as in writing)

Examples of literal in a Sentence

Adjective I was using the word in its literal sense. The literal meaning of “know your ropes” is “to know a lot about ropes,” while figuratively it means “to know a lot about how to do something.” a literal translation of a book The story he told was basically true, even if it wasn't the literal truth.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
The line, which came with the judge sentencing the comedian and writer to a year in jail, was meant to be read as both literal and meta. Whitney Friedlander, Los Angeles Times, 9 Apr. 2024 While the phrase is the literal definition of a successful marketing term, romantasy books are easy to describe. Ct Jones, Rolling Stone, 6 Apr. 2024 On the same day Taylor's reputation tour kicked off in Phoenix, Perry extended a literal olive branch to the singer, who, perhaps, wasn't (ahem) ready for it. Ruth Kinane, EW.com, 5 Apr. 2024 But how did something so pedestrian — in the most literal of senses ... Josh Robbins, National Review, 5 Apr. 2024 Platformer Gris turns the stages of grief into literal ones as its heroine silently navigates a world that uses color and music to express emotion. Megan Farokhmanesh, WIRED, 2 Apr. 2024 In the camps, the sport was a literal pastime — and a way of performing Americanness for a government that had aimed suspicion at a group determined to prove its loyalty. Jill Cowan, New York Times, 31 Mar. 2024 For this recipe, save yourself (literal) tears by grating the onion in a food processor with the shredding attachment. Julia Levy, Southern Living, 28 Mar. 2024 Richard Simmons is looking back at some of his favorite (literal) Hollywood run-ins. EW.com, 26 Mar. 2024
Noun
The purpose of their dazzling acts vary: sometimes immersing us in Jacob’s circus experience, and other times blending into dream sequences that abandon the literal to focus entirely on emotion. Shania Russell, EW.com, 21 Mar. 2024 Again, his musical selections don’t shy from the literal. Guy Lodge, Variety, 25 May 2023 David was contending with two friendship deaths—one literal, the other metaphorical. Jennifer Senior, The Atlantic, 9 Feb. 2022 Tony’s asphyxiation of Christopher makes the metaphorical literal. Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture, 5 Oct. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'literal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from Middle French, from Medieval Latin litteralis, from Latin, of a letter, from littera letter

First Known Use

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Noun

1622, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near literal

Cite this Entry

“Literal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literal. Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

literal

adjective
lit·​er·​al
ˈlit-ə-rəl,
ˈli-trəl
1
a
: following the ordinary or usual meaning of the words
literal and figurative meanings
b
: true to fact : plain, unadorned
took the television drama to be the literal truth
c
: concerned mainly with facts
a literal-minded person
2
: of, relating to, or expressed in letters
literal equations
3
: done word for word : exact, verbatim
a literal translation
literalness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on literal

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