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[lit-er-uh-lee] /ˈlɪt ər ə li/
in the literal or strict sense:
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.
Origin of literally
1525-35; literal + -ly
Can be confused
figuratively, literally, virtually (see usage note at the current entry)
Usage note
Since the early 20th 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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for literally
  • He had now figuratively as well as literally taken home his bride.
  • Before long, she had made a name for herself-literally-taking the first two letters of her three given names.
  • Sometimes they'll literally design it for you even though they may not know that's what they're doing.
  • With everybody buying music online, it's literally been reduced to the size of a postage stamp.
  • For them, the act of writing is literally moving language from one place to another, proclaiming that context is the new content.
  • Those snowflakes will absolutely view your site literally.
  • The semester is starting and you need to get back to your regularly scheduled programming, literally and figuratively.
  • Severe winter makes my skin literally leave my body.
  • Now a candidate can literally be outspent by independent groups.
  • Though humans are not literally hairless, much of our hair has become so small and fine as to render it virtually invisible.
British Dictionary definitions for literally


in a literal manner
(intensifier): there were literally thousands of people
Usage note
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
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Word Origin and History for literally

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
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