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 literal (audio) \ noun
literalness \ ˈli-​t(ə-​)rəl-​nəs How to pronounce literal (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 Both with the very Frank-like note and his literal rise above his family on the way to heaven. Derek Lawrence, EW.com, "Shameless boss on series finale, Emmy Rossum not returning, and possible revival: 'Never say never'," 12 Apr. 2021 The connection between Pogiboy and Outback is more poetic than literal: Cunanan and Dungca noticed how the Bloomin’ Onion, when sliced, splayed and fried, resembles a sampaguita, the national flower of the Philippines. Washington Post, "4 mashup dishes worth trying in the D.C. area, including pulled-pork pupusas and Chinese burritos," 12 Apr. 2021 That requires a change in perspective, both in terms of his literal geographic view of the world and his role as a hero within it. Oliver Sava, Vulture, "Invincible Recap: Growing Pains," 9 Apr. 2021 At the same time, the literal act of export in music is changing. Shain Shapiro, Forbes, "A U.K. Music Export Office Will Only Succeed If Britain Changes How It Invests In Music," 8 Apr. 2021 As the Dallas Wings’ roster prepares to go under another potential shift during the WNBA draft, the way the team will look on the floor also just received a much more literal change. Dallas News, "WNBA, Nike unveil new uniform collection, including three new looks for the Dallas Wings," 8 Apr. 2021 Stevens and Swan extend that idea to the literal presentation of Bacon’s art. Jeremy Lybarger, The New Republic, "The Turbulent Life of Francis Bacon," 7 Apr. 2021 There are all kinds of literal health benefits to knowing where your food comes from. Niema Jordan, Essence, "'Queen Sugar' Author Highlights The Relationship Between Black People And Land In New Book," 6 Apr. 2021 The literal would always slip into the metaphorical and back again. Jason Kehe, Wired, "Who Is R. A. Lafferty? And Is He the Best Sci-Fi Writer Ever?," 3 Mar. 2021

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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Time Traveler for literal

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for literal

Last Updated

16 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Literal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literal. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

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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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Comments on literal

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