literal

adjective
lit·​er·​al | \ ˈli-t(ə-)rəl How to pronounce literal (audio) \

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 How to pronounce literality (audio) \ noun
literalness \ ˈli-​t(ə-​)rəl-​nəs How to pronounce literalness (audio) \ 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

As someone who tries to keep a clean house, the boxes are a literal stumbling block. Jamie Lauren Keiles, Vox, "Why is it so hard to get rid of cardboard boxes?," 6 Dec. 2018 And that can be interpreted in multiple ways—literal dying, growing older, losing that connection to them. Joshua Rivera, GQ, "Batman Is Getting Married and You're Invited," 2 May 2018 Though definitely spectacular in the most literal sense of the word, the movies all ultimately fall short in just about every other area; only the first, released in 2004, is (arguably) watchable without the aid of alcohol or other drugs. Lee Hutchinson, Ars Technica, "Video: How an 11th-hour decision made Aliens versus Predator a classic," 20 Nov. 2018 What better way to free yourself from the chains—yes, even those heavy metallic links hanging from a few of Kawakubo's spring designs in the most exquisitely literal sense—of society's confining gaze? Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "At Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo Makes the Case for Going Gray on Your Own Damn Terms," 30 Sep. 2018 Watch the video above to see how Toledo and Geller accomplished a living room makeover without major expense, just a bit of (literal) heavy lifting. Emma Bazilian, House Beautiful, "Next Wave Duo Toledo Geller Shows How Moving Furniture Can Totally Transform A Room," 24 Jan. 2019 That's part of the message that James Middleton, brother of literal royal Kate Middleton, aims to get across in his new raw, emotional essay about his own struggles with depression. Kayleigh Roberts, Marie Claire, "Kate Middleton's Brother, James, Opens Up About His Struggles With Depression in an Emotional New Essay," 12 Jan. 2019 Green’s approach is conceptual rather than literal, as Arens’s was, but as always, there were utilitarian aspects built into his collection. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, "Inspired by Craig Green’s Fall 2019 Lineup, a Look at Fantastic Plastics in Fashion," 7 Jan. 2019 Donnelly made the metaphorical split literal in an unforgettable campaign ad that shows him chopping wood while bragging about voting to fund Trump’s border wall and bucking the left by supporting increased military spending. Dylan Scott, Vox, "Democrats are running to the middle to win the midterms," 5 Nov. 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

25 Mar 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 How to pronounce literal (audio) \

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

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