literal

adjective
lit·​er·​al | \ ˈli-t(ə-)rəl \

Definition of literal 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : 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 impossible— B. 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

literal

noun

Definition of literal (Entry 2 of 2)

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

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Other Words from literal

Adjective

literality \ ˌli-​tə-​ˈra-​lə-​tē \ noun
literalness \ ˈli-​t(ə-​)rəl-​nəs \ noun

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

And for many, using Facebook is also a literal and direct requirement. Aja Romano, Vox, "How Facebook made it impossible to delete Facebook," 20 Dec. 2018 Behind Brewer and her daughter-in-law sprawled a sea of literal and figurative red — an early-bird line that twisted and turned on the streets hours before the doors opened, a pro-Trump and pro-Cruz crowd dressed in Make-America-Great-Again red. Manny Fernandez, The Seattle Times, "Line for Trump’s Houston rally formed more than a day in advance," 22 Oct. 2018 But Trump has never grasped the subtlety of his own messaging and has continued to insist on a literal wall. Alex Shephard, New Republic, "Donald Trump will never give up on The Wall.," 18 Jan. 2018 But this bill’s ramifications aren’t literal, but more symbolic. Cady Drell, Marie Claire, "Environmental Measures on the 2018 Midterm Election Ballots You Should Know About," 18 Oct. 2018 Well, this news gives a slightly different (and literal) meaning to Assassination Nation. Devon Ivie, Teen Vogue, "Suki Waterhouse Accidentally Injured Someone While Filming "Assassination Nation"," 19 Sep. 2018 Nerds are literal, and no social skills to speak of. Recode Staff, Recode, "Why the Craig behind Craigslist gave big bucks to a journalism program," 15 July 2018 In-falling observers would be burnt to a crisp by a literal wall of fire at the horizon. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Stephen Hawking’s final paper published, tackles famous paradox," 11 Oct. 2018 Sure, something literal like boxing or Krav Maga might feel great right now, but so can low-impact meaningful movements like taking a walk outside or doing some stretching. Casey Gueren, SELF, "We Asked Therapists How to Feel a Little Bit Better This Week. Here are Their Self-Care Tips," 3 Oct. 2018

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

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First Known Use of literal

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Noun

1622, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for literal

Adjective and Noun

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

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Statistics for literal

Last Updated

14 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for literal

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

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More Definitions for literal

literal

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of literal

: involving the ordinary or usual meaning of a word

: giving the meaning of each individual word

: completely true and accurate : not exaggerated

literal

adjective
lit·​er·​al | \ ˈli-tə-rəl \

Kids Definition of literal

1 : following the ordinary or usual meaning of the words I'm using the word in its literal, not figurative, sense.
2 : true to fact She gave a literal account of what she saw.

Other Words from literal

literally adverb
literalness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on literal

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with literal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for literal

Spanish Central: Translation of literal

Nglish: Translation of literal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of literal for Arabic Speakers

Comments on literal

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involving abstract or general statements

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