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[lit-er-uh l] /ˈlɪt ər əl/
in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical:
the literal meaning of a word.
following the words of the original very closely and exactly:
a literal translation of Goethe.
true to fact; not exaggerated; actual or factual:
a literal description of conditions.
being actually such, without exaggeration or inaccuracy:
the literal extermination of a city.
(of persons) tending to construe words in the strict sense or in an unimaginative way; matter-of-fact; prosaic.
of or relating to the letters of the alphabet.
of the nature of letters.
expressed by letters.
affecting a letter or letters:
a literal error.
a typographical error, especially involving a single letter.
Origin of literal
1350-1400; Middle English < Late Latin litterālis “of letters.” See letter1, -al1
Related forms
literalness, noun
nonliteral, adjective
nonliterally, adverb
nonliteralness, noun
overliteral, adjective
unliteral, adjective
unliterally, adverb
Can be confused
literal, littoral.
3. truthful, exact, reliable. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for literalness
Historical Examples
  • Every touch is delightful—although all is literal the literalness is all humour.

    Pickwickian Studies Percy Fitzgerald
  • But it is perhaps better for avoiding the Charybdis of literalness.

  • What are the teachings of the Church regarding the literalness of the resurrection?

    The Articles of Faith James E. Talmage
  • A gospel it is, in all literalness; an evangel; a message of glad tidings.

    God and Mr. Wells William Archer
  • The Biblical descriptions of heaven she accepted in all their literalness.

    Mrs. Bindle Hebert Jenkins
  • To deny the literalness of these sacrifices does violence to the Word of God.

    The Prophet Ezekiel Arno C. Gaebelein
  • He hastened to correct its literalness though not its import.

    Shadows of Flames Amelie Rives
  • “Nothing of the sort,” said the sheriff hastily, lapsing into literalness.

    Bransford of Rainbow Range

    Eugene Manlove Rhodes
  • Unhappily for the literalness of the truth, it is Lactantius who tells the story.

    The Cradle of the Christ Octavius Brooks Frothingham
  • Symbolism and literalness, in Dante's time, and in his practice, are simultaneous.

    Three Philosophical Poets George Santayana
British Dictionary definitions for literalness


in exact accordance with or limited to the primary or explicit meaning of a word or text
word for word
dull, factual, or prosaic
consisting of, concerning, or indicated by letters
true; actual
(maths) containing or using coefficients and constants represented by letters: ax² + b is a literal expression Compare numerical (sense 3a)
Also called literal error. a misprint or misspelling in a text
Derived Forms
literalness, literality (ˌlɪtəˈrælɪtɪ) noun
Word Origin
C14: from Late Latin litterālis concerning letters, from Latin litteraletter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for literalness



late 14c., "taking words in their natural meaning" (originally in reference to Scripture and opposed to mystical or allegorical), from Old French literal and directly from Late Latin literalis/litteralis "of or belonging to letters or writing," from Latin litera/littera "letter, alphabetic sign; literature, books" (see letter (n.1)). Meaning "of or pertaining to alphabetic letters" is from late 15c. Sense of "verbally exact" is attested from 1590s, as is application to the primary sense of a word or passage. Literal-minded is attested from 1791.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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