Definition of literal
1a : according with the letter of the scriptures adheres to a literal reading of the passageb : 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. Cardozoc : free from exaggeration or embellishment the literal truthd : 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.
literalityplay \ˌli-tə-ˈra-lə-tē\ noun
literalnessplay \ˈli-t(ə-)rəl-nəs\ noun
Examples of literal in a Sentence
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 of literal from the Web
Some say it was created for Sir Frances Drake while the more likely story is that slaves in the Cuban sugar cane fields crafted the drink from a homemade rum called aguadiente (literal translation: firewater), mint and limes.
To attract locals despite the (literal) obstacles, Remoulade will offer a happy-hour food and drink deal all seven days of the week.
Turtles do literal tumble turns under your board, and guys scale palm trees to machete down their coconuts.
The builders of both attractions believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, dinosaurs lived alongside humans and every word of the Bible is the literal truth.
The latter is headed by always-shirtless conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose far-right fans believe Sandy Hook was a hoax and that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are literal demons.
But there are some drawbacks to uncovering the literal building blocks of your house, the least of which is the challenge of hanging artwork (solution: drill into the mortar, and use anchors).
These literal and figurative buggers put a dent in how much stress your returning spelunkers regain in-town each week.
So how did Trump — who spent an entire campaign and much of his presidency accusing the mainstream media of producing ‘fake news’ — wind up decorating his properties with a literal piece of phony journalism?
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.
Origin and Etymology of literal
Middle English, from Middle French, from Medieval Latin litteralis, from Latin, of a letter, from littera letter
First Known Use: 14th centurySee Words from the same year
Definition of literal
: a small error usually of a single letter (as in writing)
LITERAL Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of literal for English Language Learners
: involving the ordinary or usual meaning of a word
: giving the meaning of each individual word
: completely true and accurate : not exaggerated
LITERAL Defined for Kids
Definition of literal for Students
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.
Seen and Heard
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