Difference Wiki

Literally vs. Figuratively: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sumera Saeed || Updated on October 22, 2023
Literally means in a strict sense or exactly as stated; figuratively means in a metaphorical sense, not literal.

Key Differences

Literally refers to something that is true in the exact sense of the word, without exaggeration or metaphor. Figuratively, conversely, emphasizes a non-literal or metaphorical interpretation, often used for dramatic effect.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023
When someone uses the term "literally," they're often emphasizing the truth of their statement, even if it sounds extreme. However, when "figuratively" is used, it indicates that the statement isn't to be taken at face value, but rather as an expression or figure of speech.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023
In modern slang, some people have begun using "literally" to intensify their statements, even when they mean "figuratively." This has led to some linguistic debates. Regardless, the traditional distinction remains: "literally" means exactly and truly, while "figuratively" suggests a symbolic or metaphorical meaning.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023
In literature and daily communication, "literally" might be employed to emphasize facts or real events. "Figuratively," meanwhile, enriches language by allowing for comparisons, symbolism, and creative expressions that don't adhere to strict factual representation.
Sara Rehman
Oct 22, 2023
Incorrect usage of "literally" can sometimes lead to humorous or absurd outcomes. Using "figuratively" in the right context ensures clarity, signaling that the statement isn't to be taken literally.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 22, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Meaning

Exact, true sense.
Metaphorical, symbolic sense.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Usage

Emphasizes truth or reality.
Indicates non-literal expression.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Common in

Factual reporting.
Creative expressions.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Indicates

No exaggeration.
Exaggeration or symbolic meaning.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 22, 2023

Example

"She literally cried for an hour."
"He broke my heart, figuratively speaking."
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023
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Literally and Figuratively Definitions

Literally

Without exaggeration.
There were literally thousands of birds in the sky.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Figuratively

Not to be taken literally.
The place was a zoo, figuratively speaking.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Literally

In a strict or exact sense.
He was literally the last person to arrive.
Huma Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Figuratively

Used to describe symbolic expressions.
He was figuratively drowning in paperwork.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Literally

In a true manner or sense.
She was literally speechless after hearing the news.
Sara Rehman
Oct 22, 2023

Figuratively

Indicating a departure from a literal use of words.
The news figuratively set the world on fire.
Harlon Moss
Oct 22, 2023

Literally

Emphasizing actual facts.
The town was literally wiped off the map.
Sara Rehman
Oct 22, 2023

Figuratively

In a metaphorical manner.
I'm so hungry, I could figuratively eat a horse.
Huma Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Literally

Precisely as described.
The car literally flew down the highway.
Sara Rehman
Oct 22, 2023

Figuratively

Expressing a figure of speech.
He was figuratively on top of the world.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 22, 2023

Literally

In a literal manner; word for word
Translated the Greek passage literally.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 02, 2019

Figuratively

Based on or making use of figures of speech; metaphorical
Figurative language.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 02, 2019

FAQs

Can "literally" be used for emphasis?

Traditionally no, but modern slang sometimes uses it this way, even if it means "figuratively."
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Why use "figuratively" in a sentence?

It clarifies that you're not speaking in a literal sense.
Janet White
Oct 22, 2023

Can a situation be both "literally" and "figuratively" true?

Yes, e.g., "The book was literally and figuratively groundbreaking."
Janet White
Oct 22, 2023

Is it incorrect to use "literally" in a figurative sense?

Traditionally, yes. However, colloquial usage has muddied the waters.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Does "figuratively" only relate to figures of speech?

Primarily, but it can reference any non-literal representation.
Janet White
Oct 22, 2023

Are there alternatives to using "figuratively"?

Yes, like "metaphorically," "symbolically," or "in a manner of speaking."
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Do all English speakers understand "literally" in its colloquial sense?

Many do, but it's not universal, so clarity is key.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Can using "literally" incorrectly lead to misunderstandings?

Yes, especially if the context doesn't make the intended meaning clear.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 22, 2023

Why is there confusion between "literally" and "figuratively"?

Modern slang uses "literally" for emphasis, even when it's figurative.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Do other languages have similar issues with "literally" and "figuratively"?

Many languages have words for literal and figurative, but the specific issues might differ.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Is "literally" used differently in British and American English?

The traditional meanings are the same, but colloquial uses might vary.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Should I avoid using "literally" for emphasis?

To prevent confusion, it's best to use it in its traditional sense.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

What's the harm in misusing "literally"?

It can lead to ambiguity, confusion, or even humorous interpretations.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

How can I remember the difference between "literally" and "figuratively"?

"Literally" means exactly as stated; "figuratively" involves symbolic or metaphorical meaning.
Sara Rehman
Oct 22, 2023

Why do people use "literally" when they mean "figuratively"?

Often, it's for added emphasis or due to the influence of colloquial speech.
Harlon Moss
Oct 22, 2023

Are dictionaries updating the definition of "literally"?

Some dictionaries include the colloquial use as a secondary definition.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Is "literally" overused?

Some believe it is, especially in its non-traditional sense.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Are "literally" and "figuratively" opposites?

Yes, "literally" refers to the exact truth, while "figuratively" means metaphorically.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 22, 2023

Is using "literally" in a figurative sense a recent trend?

It's become more prominent recently, but there are instances from over a century ago.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 22, 2023

Can "figuratively" be used in formal writing?

Yes, when indicating a statement isn't to be taken at face value.
Sara Rehman
Oct 22, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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