- 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
SynonymsSee more synonyms for literal on Thesaurus.com
Examples from the Web for literal
I never hear a Democrat talk about these goods, which are, in the literal sense, indivisible—for us all.The Democrats’ Black Hole—and What They Can Do About It
December 31, 2014
So is the literal “turkey point of view” offered by the GoPros attached to the turkeys as they run around the coop.A Turkey's View of Thanksgiving
The Daily Beast Video
November 26, 2014
“The amount of literal brainwork needed to do his job too such a toll on him that it sent him to an early grave,” Goode says.From ‘The Good Wife’ to ‘The Imitation Game’: Matthew Goode Wages His Charm Offensive
November 24, 2014
“Air refueling and airlift assets were the literal pinch I am describing here,” the official said.First U.S. Stealth Jet Attack on Syria Cost More Than Indian Mission to Mars
September 24, 2014
Then the director, Penny Marshall, encouraged him to drop some of the literal behavior and put more of himself into the character.The Stacks: Robin Williams, More Than A Shtick Figure
August 16, 2014
No one will claim that it is used in its literal sense of "seed," in the text.Life: Its True Genesis
R. W. Wright
This lyrical vision restores it, whole, complete, and literal.Shelley, Godwin and Their Circle
H. N. Brailsford
This literal quotation from the frank Mr. Calvin caused a sensation.
His statement concerning Mrs. Black was not the literal truth.
And this remark, intended to be facetious, was after all pretty close to the literal truth.Shavings
Joseph C. Lincoln
- 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 expressionCompare numerical (def. 3a)
- Also called: literal error a misprint or misspelling in a text
Word Origin and History for literal
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.