Literal vs. Figurative

Little Things Mean A Lot

By Annette Rey

Writers do so much to avoid making mistakes in their writing. They dread seeing a mistake in a final piece of work in black and white on the web or on paper. Writers have to juggle rules of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, word usage, plot, scene, theme, and more.

With all this on their minds, simple errors can be committed.

Let’s look at the words literal and figurative, both adjectives.

For this post’s purposes, the basic definition of literal is: actual, free from embellishment and exaggeration – the literal truth.

Figurative means not the actual truth.

Many people do not mean to use these words incorrectly, but it is common that they do. I am sure you have heard someone say something like, “I literally died when I saw him standing on the edge of that cliff!” Yet, the person is alive and talking. The speaker means to impart to the listener that she had a frightening experience. She is embellishing and exaggerating to make a dramatic point. We have become accustomed to improper usage of certain words and it sounds awkward to say, “I figuratively died when I saw him standing on the edge of that cliff!” But that is the correct word to use in that sentence.


I am literally typing this post.

Today it was ninety-eight degrees outside; my team figuratively swam in sweat.

Jane, a professional cowhand, literally roped the steer.

The child won the award and she figuratively grew six feet tall with pride.

If we are conscious of word choice before we write, our editing job will be made easier, too.










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