- 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
- 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 non-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.