[ lit-er-uh-liz-uhm ]


  1. adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation:

    to interpret the law with uncompromising literalism.

  2. a peculiarity of expression resulting from this:

    The work is studded with these obtuse literalisms.

  3. exact representation or portrayal, without idealization, as in art or literature:

    a literalism more appropriate to journalism than to the novel.


/ ˈlɪtərəˌlɪzəm /


  1. the disposition to take words and statements in their literal sense
  2. literal or realistic portrayal in art or literature
“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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Derived Forms

  • ˌliteralˈistic, adjective
  • ˌliteralˈistically, adverb
  • ˈliteralist, noun
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Other Words From

  • liter·al·ist noun
  • liter·al·istic adjective
  • liter·al·isti·cal·ly adverb
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Word History and Origins

Origin of literalism1

First recorded in 1635–45; literal + -ism
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Example Sentences

I think a lot of this is rooted in the idea of the “inerrancy of scripture”—the literalism of the Bible.

Things are so bad that we do not even realize that literalism itself had a different meaning in past epochs.

Because if Rubio believed in biblical literalism on the subject, he presumably would have said so.

Such strict constitutionalist arguments, Adler said, are based on an absurdist, “gotcha literalism.”

The literalism of the Panorama has lately been invaded by an effort toward the Ideal.

Evan turned a little pale at the mere memory, but he answered with the same cold and deadly literalism that he showed throughout.

But there is a like danger in the opposite literalism of the historian.

"They are satisfied, as the common people were, with a degraded literalism," she went on.

The Bible, however, remains the main guide of these people, and they follow its instructions with childish literalism.