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.
But it is of no use to complain that literally properly means “actually; without exaggeration,” the exact opposite of figuratively. That battle is almost lost; popular usage has nearly won, so that literally may also be used to mean “in effect; very nearly; virtually.” In fact, this meaning is now quite common, with literally being used to intensify a metaphorical expression, as in “He literally died when he found out the truth.”
Another usage battle was lost well over two thousand years ago, when Cicero, the Roman Republic’s greatest orator and man of letters, in his dialogue Brutus, yielded his own older “correct” pronunciation of certain words to the more recent popular “incorrect” usage, changing his own pulcer “beautiful” to pulcher, triumpus “triumph” to triumphus, and Cartāgo “Carthage” to Carthāgo. (Notice that it is the “vulgar” spellings that are current in English pulchritude, triumph, and Carthage ). In each of the spelling changes, “c” to “ch,” “p” to “ph,” and “t” to “th,” the “h” represents aspiration of the consonant (voiceless stops in these cases). Aspirated voiceless stops were a feature of the pronunciation of the uneducated populace who aspired to but overshot the pronunciation of educated speakers.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023
How to use literally in a sentence
It was so easy to target and literally harass our community.New Orleans shelter to be ‘forever home’ for homeless trans people | Michael K. Lavers | August 27, 2020 | Washington Blade
Officials seldom step in to stop a fight unless one participant is being pounded into a vegetable or until the fighters bring the action literally down to the ice.
It’s going to literally take years to see the effects of this time on the industry.‘Urgent need’: How agencies are deploying diversity and inclusion execs, forming new councils to create more equitable companies | Kristina Monllos | August 21, 2020 | Digiday
Google’s latest announcement took the weight off nofollow links—quite literally.What Google says about nofollow, sponsored, and UGC links in 2020: Does it affect your SEO rankings? | Joseph Dyson | July 24, 2020 | Search Engine Watch
It not only represents another way to improve UX and conversions but literally shows us what’s missing in our content strategy and product range.Eight great tips for internal site search optimization | Marco Bonomo | June 18, 2020 | Search Engine Watch
He was then literally slapped around by the high priest, who pulled on his ears in an effort to produce tears.
There was poop humor—literally—when Valerie's house becomes flooded with fecal matter after a pipe bursts.‘The Comeback’ Finale: Give Lisa Kudrow All of the Awards | Kevin Fallon | December 29, 2014 | THE DAILY BEAST
“He literally went underground to hold services,” Moscow-based dissident and journalist Victor Davidoff said in an email.Remembering the Russian Priest Who Fought the Orthodox Church | Cathy Young | December 28, 2014 | THE DAILY BEAST
So for the 12 years he spent at Aldgate, Chaucer was mostly alone, with a teeming urban scene literally beneath his feet.A Year In The Life of The Canterbury Tales’ Storied Beginnings | Wendy Smith | December 25, 2014 | THE DAILY BEAST
But once Kanye came along, Kim had to literally clean out her closet.Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s Balmain Campaign: High Fashion Meets Low Culture | Amy Zimmerman | December 23, 2014 | THE DAILY BEAST
“You appear to feel it so,” rejoined Mr. Pickwick, smiling at the clerk, who was literally red-hot.The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, v. 2(of 2) | Charles Dickens
As I write dead quiet reigns on the Peninsula, literally dead quiet.Gallipoli Diary, Volume I | Ian Hamilton
In a moment more Phœbe and Alice were at the door which admits to a passage leading literally to the side of the house.Checkmate | Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
First,—unless we get between the Divisional Generals and the enemy, there is literally no room!Gallipoli Diary, Volume I | Ian Hamilton
On either side the carnage had been terrible, and the pathways of the village were literally choked with the dead.The Every Day Book of History and Chronology | Joel Munsell
British Dictionary definitions for literally
in a literal manner
(intensifier): there were literally thousands of people
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