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Alternative forms[edit]


From literal +‎ -ly.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈlɪtəɹəli/, /ˈlɪtɹəli/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈlɪtəɹəli/
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literally (comparative more literally, superlative most literally)

  1. Word for word; not figuratively; not as an idiom or metaphor.
    Synonyms: actually, really, unfiguratively, unmetaphorically; see also Thesaurus:actually
    Antonyms: figuratively, idiomatically, metaphorically, virtually
    Hyponym: overliterally
    Coordinate term: etymonically
    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.
    • 1991, Douglas Coupland, “Dead at 30 Buried at 70”, in Generation X, New York: St. Martin's Press, →OCLC:
      All events became omens; I lost the ability to take anything literally.
    • 2012 May 24, Nathan Rabin, “Film: Reviews: Men In Black 3”, in The Onion AV Club[1]:
      [] 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.
    • 2021 January 7, Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane, “Inside the Capitol, the Sound of the Mob Came First”, in The New York Times[2], →ISSN:
      As lawmakers and staff rushed out, aides snatched the boxes containing the Electoral College certificates, making sure that the vandals could not literally steal the results of the election.
  2. (degree, figurative, 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.
    On 9/11 people were literally glued to their TV sets.
    • 1827, Sir Walter Scott, “Appendix to Introduction”, in Chronicles of the Canongate[3], archived from the original on 15 June 2021:
      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 April 22, New Straits Times, Malaysia, 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 dramatize non-figurative statements.
    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".
    Literally who is this?
    • 2015, “On the Run”, in Steven Universe:
      Pearl: Steven, we are not like the No Home Boys. We are literally standing in your home right now.
  4. (colloquial) Used as a generic downtoner: just, merely.
    Synonyms: merely; see also Thesaurus:merely
    It's not even hard⁠ to make—you literally just put it in the microwave for five minutes and it's done.
    It won't take me long to get back, cause the store's literally two blocks away.

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.