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

To call the game past halfway done at that point would be literal. Hunter Atkins, Houston Chronicle, "Rays take see-saw battle from Astros to avoid sweep," 29 Aug. 2019 Other examples of bio-inspiration that visualize how artists and designers have utilized this approach throughout history are more literal. Wendy Moonan, Smithsonian, "How Biology Inspires Future Technology," 27 Aug. 2019 About 80 international groups are scheduled to perform over the weekend and dozens more will give you a literal taste of their native country's cuisine. Kirby Adams, The Courier-Journal, "Travel the world without leaving Louisville. Here's what to know about 2019 Worldfest," 23 Aug. 2019 Janssen, who began taking testosterone in his forties and helped inspire Jackson Hearns’ trans offerings, said that the importance of voice is both literal and philosophical, embedded in protest. Nicole Blackwood, chicagotribune.com, "Trans Chicagoans learn to construct sound from square one, for safety and artistic pursuits," 12 Aug. 2019 Deep fried politics: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio got a taste of the Iowa State Fair in the most literal sense, the Register’s Kim Norvell writes. Seth A. Richardson, cleveland.com, "Trump promotes fracking at Pennsylvania cracker plant: The Flyover," 14 Aug. 2019 And in the case of underwater mountains called seamounts, that mark is literal. Scientific American, "Ballistic Maggots, Synthetic Winks and Why You’re Not Goop: This Week’s Best Science GIFs," 9 Aug. 2019 Unlike his Crime Story anthology, based on real-life events, The Politician isn't designed to be so literal. Bryn Elise Sandberg, The Hollywood Reporter, "Wealth, Privilege and Gwyneth Paltrow: How Ryan Murphy's First Netflix Show Takes Down Trump-Era Entitlement," 7 Aug. 2019 For The Haunting of Hill House star Oliver Jackson-Cohen, this is a bit more literal. Nick Romano, EW.com, "Hill House star Oliver Jackson-Cohen lands title role in The Invisible Man," 12 July 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

9 Sep 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

Comments on literal

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