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

The Last Black Man in San Francisco,’ the desire for home is at once existential and literal, a matter of self and safety, being and belonging. Mark Olsen, latimes.com, "Indie Focus: backstage comedy in 'Late Night'," 7 June 2019 The six million people who lived in the Tennessee Valley in 1933 had little power, though, literal or political. Kevin Baker, Harper's magazine, "Where Our New World Begins," 10 May 2019 But in its most literal meaning, nakedness is still taboo. Michelle Lee, Allure, "Editor in Chief Michelle Lee Announces "The New Naked" Issue," 16 Jan. 2018 Lee has just taken this agender approach to dressing to new heights in a literal sense. Vogue, "Swae Lee, Reformed Sneakerhead, Is Now Making the Case for Rappers in Heels," 30 May 2019 To add insult to injury, Howard also says the literal cost of being a woman in Hollywood is much more too. Andrea Park, Glamour, "Bryce Dallas Howard Says She Used to Get 'Scared Off' During Pay Negotiations," 9 Apr. 2018 Reputational cost is impossible to quantify, but the literal cost to U.C. Berkeley, in security fees alone, was likely to exceed a million dollars. Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, "How Social-Media Trolls Turned U.C. Berkeley Into a Free-Speech Circus," 23 May 2016 Kendall, on the other hand, rose like a literal phoenix from the ashes. Kelsey Stiegman, Seventeen, "Kendall and Kylie Jenner Wear Matching Feather Dresses on the 2019 Met Gala Red Carpet," 7 May 2019 These days, the literal chill of the on-demand streaming video service is so great that some young couples call it the new birth control. Shalini Ramachandran, WSJ, "Let’s Watch Netflix: Three Words Guaranteed to Kill a Romantic Mood," 21 Apr. 2019

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

17 Jun 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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