[ lit-er-uhl ]
See synonyms for literal on
  1. 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.

  2. following the words of the original very closely and exactly: a literal translation of Goethe.

  1. true to fact; not exaggerated; actual or factual: a literal description of conditions.

  2. being actually such, without exaggeration or inaccuracy: the literal extermination of a city.

  3. (of persons) tending to construe words in the strict sense or in an unimaginative way; matter-of-fact; prosaic.

  4. of or relating to the letters of the alphabet.

  5. of the nature of letters.

  6. expressed by letters.

  7. affecting a letter or letters: a literal error.

  1. a typographical error, especially involving a single letter.

Origin of literal

1350–1400; Middle English <Late Latin litterālis “of letters.” See letter1, -al1

Other words for literal

Other words from literal

  • lit·er·al·ness, noun
  • non·lit·er·al, adjective
  • non·lit·er·al·ly, adverb
  • non·lit·er·al·ness, noun
  • o·ver·lit·er·al, adjective
  • un·lit·er·al, adjective
  • un·lit·er·al·ly, adverb

Words that may be confused with literal

Words Nearby literal Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use literal in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for literal


/ (ˈlɪtərəl) /

  1. in exact accordance with or limited to the primary or explicit meaning of a word or text

  2. word for word

  1. dull, factual, or prosaic

  2. consisting of, concerning, or indicated by letters

  3. true; actual

  4. maths containing or using coefficients and constants represented by letters: ax² + b is a literal expression: Compare numerical (def. 3a)

  1. Also called: literal error a misprint or misspelling in a text

Origin of literal

C14: from Late Latin litterālis concerning letters, from Latin littera letter

Derived forms of literal

  • literalness or literality (ˌlɪtəˈrælɪtɪ), noun

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