9 Grammatical Pitfalls


[lit-er-uh l] /ˈlɪt ər əl/
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
1350-1400; Middle English < Late Latin litterālis of letters. See letter, al1
Related forms
literalness, noun
nonliteral, adjective
nonliterally, adverb
nonliteralness, noun
overliteral, adjective
unliteral, adjective
unliterally, adverb
Can be confused
literal, littoral.
3. truthful, exact, reliable. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for literal
  • Cultural differences mean that a literal understanding of what someone says is often a world away from real understanding.
  • The flooding began flushing out rat holes around the lake, triggering a literal rat race for higher ground.
  • With a literal imitation of camp-meeting racket, and trance.
  • Stem-winder somehow has more life in it, more fancy and vividness, than the literal keyless-watch.
  • Turning the page is a literal touch of the thing you read.
  • There were a number of literal collapses in the match.
  • His editing precision was legendary and he was so literal-minded that he even corrected literary quotations.
  • And the only way to appreciate it is by going beyond its literal meaning.
  • We can safely refer to each and all of these interests, if this is not a literal description of their present condition.
  • Nostalgically-flavored vodkas are more likely to apply a literal interpretation of flavor.
British Dictionary definitions for literal


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 expression Compare numerical (sense 3a)
Also called literal error. a misprint or misspelling in a text
Derived Forms
literalness, literality (ˌlɪtəˈrælɪtɪ) noun
Word Origin
C14: from Late Latin litterālis concerning letters, from Latin litteraletter
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 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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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literal in Technology

A constant made available to a process, by inclusion in the executable text. Most modern systems do not allow texts to modify themselves during execution, so literals are indeed constant; their value is written at compile-time and is read-only at run time.
In contrast, values placed in variables or files and accessed by the process via a symbolic name, can be changed during execution. This may be an asset. For example, messages can be given in a choice of languages by placing the translation in a file.
Literals are used when such modification is not desired. The name of the file mentioned above (not its content), or a physical constant such as 3.14159, might be coded as a literal. Literals can be accessed quickly, a potential advantage of their use.

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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