literally

[lit-er-uh-lee]

adverb

in the literal or strict sense: She failed to grasp the metaphor and interpreted the poem literally. What does the word mean literally?
in a literal manner; word for word: to translate literally.
actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy: The city was literally destroyed.
in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually: I literally died when she walked out on stage in that costume.

Nearby words

  1. literal-minded,
  2. literalism,
  3. literalist,
  4. literality,
  5. literalize,
  6. literary,
  7. literary agent,
  8. literary executor,
  9. literate,
  10. literately

Origin of literally

First recorded in 1525–35; literal + -ly

Can be confusedfiguratively literally virtually (see usage note at the current entry)

Usage note

Since the early 19th century, literally has been widely used as an intensifier meaning “in effect, virtually,” a sense that contradicts the earlier meaning “actually, without exaggeration”: The senator was literally buried alive in the Iowa primaries. The parties were literally trading horses in an effort to reach a compromise. The use is often criticized; nevertheless, it appears in all but the most carefully edited writing. Although this use of literally irritates some, it probably neither distorts nor enhances the intended meaning of the sentences in which it occurs. The same might often be said of the use of literally in its earlier sense “actually”: The garrison was literally wiped out: no one survived.

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for literally


British Dictionary definitions for literally

literally

adverb

in a literal manner
(intensifier)there were literally thousands of people

usage

The use of literally as an intensifier is common, esp in informal contexts. In some cases, it provides emphasis without adding to the meaning: the house was literally only five minutes walk away. Often, however, its use results in absurdity: the news was literally an eye-opener to me. It is therefore best avoided in formal contexts

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

Word Origin and History for literally

literally

adv.

1530s, "in a literal sense," from literal + -ly (2). Erroneously used in reference to metaphors, hyperbole, etc., even by writers like Dryden and Pope, to indicate "what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense" (1680s), which is opposite to the word's real meaning and a long step down the path to the modern misuse of it.

We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that where the truth would require us to insert with a strong expression 'not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking', we do not hesitate to insert the very word we ought to be at pains to repudiate; ... such false coin makes honest traffic in words impossible. [Fowler, 1924]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper