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

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 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 The stone walls, marble floors, trapezoid windows and skylights hinted at a (literally) brighter future. Shauna Steigerwald,, "Cool Home: Indian Hill 1960s renovation," 27 June 2017 Located at the Grace Santorini, a luxury hotel literally carved into a cliff, the expansive infinity pool arguably has the island's best view of the sunset — and the giant volcano situated in the adjacent village of Imerovigli. Sara Tardiff, ELLE Decor, "Swim Laps In Santorini's Largest Infinity Pool That Overlooks A Volcano," 19 June 2017 For Diana, her role in Steve’s mission is literally to wage the war to end all wars. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "The Hard-Won Wisdom of “Wonder Woman”," 6 June 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).


a bell tower

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