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Alternative forms[edit]


literal +‎ -ly



literally (not comparable)

  1. (speech act) word for word; not figuratively; not as an idiom or metaphor
    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.
  2. (degree, proscribed) used non-literally as an intensifier for figurative statements: virtually (often considered incorrect; see usage notes)
    • 1827, Sir Walter Scott, Chronicles of the Canongate
      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 []
    • 2009, 500 Days of Summer:
      - She took a giant shit on my face. Literally.
      - Literally?
      - Well, no, not literally. That's disgusting. What's wrong with you?
  3. (colloquial) Used as a generic downtoner: just, merely.
    You literally put it in the microwave for five minutes and it's done.

Usage notes[edit]

"Literally" is the opposite of "figuratively". Thus, many authorities object to the use of literally as an intensifier for figurative statements. For example "you literally become the ball", by the primary sense, would mean actually transforming into a spherical object, but the speaker is using literally as an intensifier. However, this type of usage is common in informal speech ("she was literally in floods of tears") and is attested since 1827.