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Alternative forms[edit]


literal +‎ -ly


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈlɪtəɹəli/, /ˈlɪtɹəli/, (colloquial) /ˈlɪtʃəli/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈlɪtəɹəli/, /ˈlɪ.ɾɚ.ə.li/
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literally (comparative more literally, superlative most literally)

  1. (speech act) word for word; not figuratively; not as an idiom or metaphor
    Synonyms: actually, really; see also Thesaurus:actually
    Antonyms: figuratively, metaphorically, virtually
    When I saw on the news that there would be no school tomorrow because of the snowstorm, I literally jumped for joy, and hit my head on the ceiling fan.
    • 2012 May 24, Nathan Rabin, “Film: Reviews: Men In Black 3”, in The Onion AV Club[1]:
      Sequels to fish-out-of-water comedies make progressively less sense the longer a series continues. By the time Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles rolled around in 2001, 15 years after the first Crocodile Dundee became a surprise blockbuster, the title character had been given an awfully long time to grow acclimated to those kooky Americans. Men In Black 3 finagles its way out of this predicament by literally resetting the clock with a time-travel premise that makes Will Smith both a contemporary intergalactic cop in the late 1960s and a stranger to Josh Brolin, who plays the younger version of Smith’s stone-faced future partner, Tommy Lee Jones.
    • 2015, Steven Universe, "On the Run":
      Pearl: Steven, we are not like the No Home Boys. We are literally standing in your home right now.
  2. (degree, figuratively, proscribed, contranym) Used non-literally as an intensifier for figurative statements: virtually, so to speak (often considered incorrect; see usage notes)
    Synonym: virtually
    He was so surprised, he literally jumped twenty feet in the air.
    My daughter's pet rabbit had babies, and now we've literally got rabbits coming out of our ears.
    • 1827, Sir Walter Scott, “Appendix to Introduction”, in Chronicles of the Canongate[2]:
      The house was literally electrified; and it was only from witnessing the effects of her genius that he could guess to what a pitch theatrical excellence could be carried.
    • 1993, Wayne W. Dyer, Real Magic, page 193:
      You literally become the ball in a tennis match, you become the report that you are working on []
    • 2017, New Straits Times (Malaysia) 22 April, page 20:
      [O]ne can assume that the millions or billions of ringgit spent on the war against drugs have gone down the drain, literally.
  3. (colloquial) Used to intensify or dramatise non-figurative statements; tending towards a meaningless filler word in repeated use.
    I had no idea, so I was literally guessing.
    I was literally having breakfast when she arrived.
    She was literally like, "What?", and I was literally like, "Yeah".
  4. (colloquial) Used as a generic downtoner: just, merely.
    Synonyms: merely; see also Thesaurus:merely
    You literally put it in the microwave for five minutes and it's done.

Usage notes[edit]

Literally is the opposite of figuratively and many authorities object to the use of literally as an intensifier for figurative statements. For example “you literally become the ball”, without any figurative sense, means actually transforming into a spherical object, which is clearly impossible. Rather, the speaker is using literally as an intensifier, to indicate that the metaphor is to be understood in the strongest possible sense. This type of usage is common in informal speech (“she was literally in floods of tears”) and is attested since 1769.