Right now, all over the world, someone is using “literally” when they should be using “figuratively.” And I’m afraid that I am as guilty as the rest of the world. I’ve probably misused the word “literally” literally (and I mean it here!) hundreds of times. Well, today it’s time to put me (and maybe a few of you) on the straight and narrow path of correct word usage. 😉
The trolls were literally going to eat the dwarves.
The funny thing about literally is that it means just that. If something literally happened, it means that the thing actually happened. The trolls were actually going to eat the dwarves, so literally is the best choice.
Legolas’s haircut was so bad that I literally died.
Now, if you really, truly died when you saw Legolas’s haircut, then yes, you may use literally. However, since you are alive to tell everyone that you literally died, the correct word should have been figuratively. Remember literally means whatever you said actually happened, happened.
Smaug had such a gorgeous voice, I figuratively cried.
While you might have wanted to cry over Smaug’s awesome voice, if you didn’t actually have tears streaming down your cheeks, then you should use the word figuratively. I would like to point out that while this sentence is grammatically correct, it’s probably not what you’d normally say in real life which is why some dictionaries (like Merriam-Webster) have added a second definition of literally: “in effect; virtually.”
I’ve literally seen An Unexpected Journey a gazillion times.
Even though figuratively might be the best grammatical option in this sentence, it’s probably okay to say literally. Your friends would understand that you have just watched the movie lots of times. Just don’t blame me if a certain superhero shows up to restore the balance.
Balance Restored! Thanks to Studio C for the grammar rule idea. 😉