lit·​er·​al·​ly | \ ˈli-tə-rə-lē How to pronounce literally (audio) , ˈli-trə-lē, ˈli-tər-lē\

Definition of literally

1 : in a literal sense or manner: such as
a : in a way that uses the ordinary or primary meaning of a term or expression He took the remark literally. a word that can be used both literally and figuratively
b used to emphasize the truth and accuracy of a statement or description The party was attended by literally hundreds of people.
c : with exact equivalence : with the meaning of each individual word given exactly The term "Mardi Gras" literally means "Fat Tuesday" in French.
d : in a completely accurate way a story that is basically true even if not literally true
2 : in effect : virtually used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice— Norman Cousins

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Should literally be used for emphasis?: Usage Guide

Sense 2 is common and not at all new but has been frequently criticized as an illogical misuse. It is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.

Examples of literally in a Sentence

… make the whole scene literally glow with the fires of his imagination. — Alfred Kazin, Harper's, December 1968 Even Muff did not miss our periods of companionship, because about that time she grew up and started having literally millions of kittens. — Jean Stafford, Bad Characters, 1954 Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry … than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. — James Joyce, Dubliners, 1914 … yet the wretch, absorbed in his victuals, and naturally of an unutterable dullness, did not make a single remark during dinner, whereas I literally blazed with wit. — William Makepeace Thackeray, Punch, 30 Oct. 1847 Many words can be used both literally and figuratively. He took her comments literally. He's a sailor who knows his ropes, literally and figuratively. The term “Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The story he told was basically true, even if it wasn't literally true.
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Recent Examples on the Web

These programs would quite literally be cut to pay tax breaks that mostly benefit the rich. Alan Essig, Fortune, "Trump Doesn’t Want Us to See His Real Tax Plan," 30 Aug. 2017 Joffrey Baratheon choking from poison Another villain gets his comeuppance — and how telling it is that literally no one helps Joffrey except for his own parents. Eliana Dockterman, Time, "Game of Thrones," 29 Aug. 2017 A way of literally coauthoring the story of our relationship. Julie Beck, The Atlantic, "How Friends Become Closer," 29 Aug. 2017 Earlier this year, Ochsner got her feet wet — literally — in floods across Louisiana and North Carolina. Nicole Blanchard, idahostatesman, "Amid historic floods, Houston put out a call for help. These Idahoans answered it.," 27 Aug. 2017 Much of that lights-on effect comes down to literally warming your muscles. K. Aleisha Fetters, SELF, "Why You Should Never Skip Your Warm-Up," 26 Aug. 2017 University of Houston Welcome Week at the University of Houston is getting rained out — literally. Susannah Hutcheson, USA TODAY College, "How Texas colleges are bracing for Hurricane Harvey," 24 Aug. 2017 Literally, us/Jon Snow right now: ' ' Game of Thrones: #PrepareForWinter Share Embed Link This theory, known as the Davy Jones Theory because of its similarity to Pirates of the Caribbean, is also linked to the Azor Ahai lore. Mehera Bonner, Marie Claire, "This Wild 'Game of Thrones' Theory Predicts Jon Snow Will Kill Himself and Become the Night King," 24 Aug. 2017 That bares some resemblance to the case of Vitaly Churkin, Russia's longtime U.N. ambassador, who almost literally dropped dead at work in February. Jack Holmes, Esquire, "A Fourth Russian Ambassador in 9 Months Is Now Dead," 24 Aug. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'literally.' 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 literally

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for literally

see literal entry 1

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Statistics for literally

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Time Traveler for literally

The first known use of literally was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for literally



English Language Learners Definition of literally

: in a way that uses the ordinary and usual meaning of a word
used to stress that a statement or description is true and accurate even though it may be surprising
: with the meaning of each individual word given exactly

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Comments on literally

What made you want to look up literally? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


food or victuals

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