Meaning of LITERAL in English


I. ˈlid.ərəl, ˈlitər-, ˈli.trəl adjective

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Medieval Latin litteralis, literalis, from Latin, of a letter, of writing, from littera, litera letter & litterae, literae epistle, writing + -alis -al — more at letter


a. : according with the letter of the scriptures

amillennialists recognize the need for literal interpretation — Bibliotheca Sacra

b. : adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression : actual , obvious

the need for a literal breathing spell forces the fish to let go — L.P.Schultz

a literal solitude like a desert — G.K.Chesterton

liberty in the literal sense is impossible — B.N.Cardozo

reactionary in the literal sense of the word, but did not agree … how far back they wanted to go — William Peterson

c. : being without exaggeration or embellishment : plain , unadorned

literal prose

a love of literal truth — Robert Graves

d. : characterized by a concern mainly with facts : prosaic , unimaginative

the opposite of a liberal education … is a literal education — Sidney Hook

if a painter tells a story … even the most literal person will have no difficulty in understanding what the artist is trying to say — Huntington Hartford

statue … dressed as he had been when alive, in accordance with the literal standards of late-century monumental sculpture — J.T.Soby

a literal and academic reading of a classic score — Virgil Thomson


a. : of, relating to, or expressed in letters

the distress signal SOS has no literal meaning

literal coefficient

cryptographic codes may be either literal or numerical

b. : resulting from the mistaken use or omission of a letter

literal error

3. : reproduced word for word : exact , verbatim

literal translation

II. noun

( -s )

: a small error usually of a single letter in writing or printing

in setting type, allow enough space so that a line will accommodate any literal the proofreader may find

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.