Difference Between Literally and Figuratively

Main Difference

The main difference between literally and figuratively is that the meaning of the word literally is exact and real, whereas the meaning of figuratively is metaphorical.

Literally vs. Figuratively

The words literally and figuratively are different from each other. If you want your writing to be precise, then you must keep these two words separated. Literally and figuratively are used differently in their own appropriate contexts. The meaning of “literally” is something that happened in real. The meaning of “figuratively” is known as metaphorical meaning.

Literally means something which is actually, real or exact. ‘Figuratively’ can mean something other than literal. Literally means in a direct, subtle or exact sense. This word “literally” is sometimes used as an intensifier. The word figuratively has the opposite meaning of literally. It means not exact but in an analogous sense.

In its common use, the word literally means in an exact or strict sense. For example, if someone says that I am literally dancing with joy, this literally means that he or she is performing dance steps, whirling or jumping with joy. Figuratively has a meaning in a metaphorical context.

If you say something which you don’t mean, you use figuratively in such context. In other words, a thing which you express through the figures of speech is figurative. For example, if someone says that he or she is figuratively dancing with joy then it means that he/she is extremely happy but not exactly making dance moves physically.

Both words have different origins. The word “literal” originates from the Latin word “littera” meaning letter. The word “figuratively” originates from Middle English, from late Latin “figurativus/figurare/figura” which means figure or ‘to form or fashion.’

Literally is used to describe a factually accurate thing, without any exaggeration. My project related to my new company is literally very hard to complete. Figuratively is used for idioms or exaggerations inversely literally is used when the word has no change from its dictionary meaning.

Comparison Chart

LiterallyFiguratively
The meaning of the word literally is exact and realThe meaning of the word figuratively is metaphorical
Message
DirectIndirect
Language
SimpleStylistic
Literal Devices
Not presentPresent
Change in Dictionary Meaning
NoYes

What is Literally?

Literally is an adjective which means ‘in an exact/real sense.’ The meaning of literally is something that happened in real. The word literally means something which is actually, real or exact. This word is used where there is no exaggeration or use of devices like hyperbole, metaphor, allegory, etc.

Literally is used to different degrees since the early 19th century. The modern use of ‘literally’ is common as an intensifier. However, the intensive use of literally is not related to what is “literal.” The word “literal” originates from the Latin word “littera” meaning letter. Literally is used to describe the factually accurate thing, without any exaggeration. My project related to my new company is literally very hard to complete.

The word literally is also used as an adverb that means ‘in a literal manner.’ The word literally is also sometimes not true in informal settings but is still used for emphasis. In its common use, the word literally means in an exact or strict sense. For example, if someone says that I am literally dancing with joy, this literally means that he or she is performing dance steps, whirling or jumping with joy.

‘Literally’ is synonymous with exactly, very, or truly. The synonyms for of literally can be actually and really. The colloquial Synonyms for literally are “in effect or virtually.” In academic English, these synonyms are used instead of the word literally because this literally is widely viewed as an error. Literally means “in actual sense, without exaggeration.” It is used when speaking about something in a direct and exact sense.

Examples

  • I wrote the literal translation of an essay on criticism.
  • I told him to jump in a well and oh my god he literally did.
  • I have literally received thousands of wishes for my birthday.

What is Figuratively?

The word figuratively is an adjective which has means not exact but in an analogous sense. Its meaning is the opposite of that of literally. Figuratively has a rather metaphorical meaning. It can mean something other than literal. If you say something which you don’t mean, you use figuratively in such context.

In other words, a thing which you express through the figures of speech is figurative. For example, if someone says that he or she is figuratively dancing with joy then it means that he/she is extremely happy but not exactly making dance moves physically.

The word “figuratively” originates from Middle English, from late Latin “figurativus/figurare/figura” which means figure or ‘to form or fashion.’ Figuratively means containing devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, allegory, or other figures of speech. Figuratively is used for idioms or exaggerations.

The word figuratively is identified by having in it the word ‘figure’ which can relate with figures of speech, e.g. metaphor, analogy. The meaning of figuratively is in an analogous sense. Some dictionaries define the word figuratively as “deviation from the literal use of words.”

The use of figuratively makes the words or sentence different from its said meaning. ‘Figuratively’ represents forms that are rationally derived from life. Figuratively has a meaning different from its dictionary definition. Idioms fall into the category of figurative language.

Examples

  • I am so hungry that I can figuratively eat a camel right now.
  • She was so angry that her face figuratively turned as a bee
  • I am so angry that I can kill you, figuratively!

Key Differences

  1. The word literally refers to the fact or refers to the direct or exact meaning, whereas the word figuratively refers to the double or metaphorical meaning.
  2. Literally means something which is actually, real or exact while figuratively means something other than literal.
  3. Literally means in a direct or exact This word literally is not loosely used as an intensifier conversely the word figuratively has the opposite meaning of literally. It means not exact but in an analogous sense.
  4. The meaning of literally is something that happened in real on the flip side the meaning of figuratively is metaphorical.
  5. In its common use, the word literally means in a strict sense; on the other hand, figuratively has a meaning in an indirect way.
  6. The word “literal” originates from the Latin word “littera” meaning letter, on the contrary, the word “figuratively” originates from Middle English, from late Latin “figurativus/figurare/figura” which means figure or ‘to form or fashion.’
  7. For example, if someone says that I am literally dancing with joy, this literally means that he or she is performing dance steps, whirling, or jumping with joy.
  8. Literally is used when the word has no change from its dictionary, meaning inversely figuratively is used for idioms or exaggerations.
  9. If you want to assert the reality of something you use the word literally contrarily if you want to say something which you don’t mean, you use figuratively in such context.
  10. Literally is used to describe a factually accurate thing, without any exaggeration, e.g. my project related to my new company is literally very hard to complete inversely figuratively directs the literal devices like hyperbolic or metaphor. It is what we call figurative language, e.g. this recipe of fried chicken soup is figuratively harder than any recipe in the world.

Conclusion

The words literally and figuratively are used for the assertion. However, both these words are different from each other and have different meanings in different contexts.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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