literally

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

Essential Meaning of literally

1 : in a way that uses the ordinary and usual meaning of a word 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.
2 used to stress that a statement or description is true and accurate even though it may be surprising He was literally [=truly, actually] insane.He was quite literally jumping up and down in his rage.The party was attended by literally hundreds of people.
3 : with the meaning of each individual word given exactly The term "Mardi Gras" literally means "Fat Tuesday" in French.

Full 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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Frequently Asked Questions About literally

Can literally mean figuratively?

One of the definitions of literally that we provide is "in effect, virtually—used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible." Some find this objectionable on the grounds that it is not the primary meaning of the word, "with the meaning of each individual word given exactly." However, this extended definition of literally is commonly used and is not quite the same meaning as figuratively ("with a meaning that is metaphorical rather than literal").

Is the extended use of literally new?

The "in effect; virtually" meaning of literally is not a new sense. It has been in regular use since the 18th century and may be found in the writings of Mark Twain, Charlotte Brontë, James Joyce, and many others.

Is the extended use of literally slang?

Among the meanings of literally is one which many people find problematic: "in effect, virtually—used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible." Neither this nor any of the other meanings of literally is what we would consider slang. This sense has been in standard use by many esteemed writers since the 18th century.

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 Trimble is a global, multi-billion-dollar company, that literally touches almost every industry, from construction to agriculture to transportation, with products that connect the physical and digital world. Jeff Thomson, Forbes, 15 Oct. 2021 Was literally hoping #AMCSqueeze should show subtitles . Michael Roppolo, CBS News, 15 Oct. 2021 Such maneuvering already is well under way across the league, player literally signed for mere hours before being released, to be assigned to G League affiliates. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, 14 Oct. 2021 In the instantly infamous Episode 6, Oh’s character literally loses his marbles as his younger partner deviously, regretfully feeds him bad information in order to win. The New Yorker, 14 Oct. 2021 Gobert was there, looming large both literally and figuratively. Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, 14 Oct. 2021 Some plot points will literally turn on a roll of the dice: In 2018, some Critical Role fans were distraught when a popular character in Campaign 2 named Mollymauk Tealeaf (played by Taliesin Jaffe) was killed after an unlucky series of throws. Todd Spangler, Variety, 14 Oct. 2021 The Spurs forward’s performance in his grade school play quite literally proved the thespian maxim that there are no small parts. Jeff Mcdonald, San Antonio Express-News, 13 Oct. 2021 My sisters have gotten into some brutal, literally punching fights. Bethany Heitman, Health.com, 13 Oct. 2021

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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Time Traveler for literally

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near literally

literalize

literally

literal-minded

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Statistics for literally

Last Updated

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Literally.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literally. Accessed 28 Oct. 2021.

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