A symbolic problem: Literally vs. Figuratively

The difference between these two words is one of apples and oranges, figuratively speaking that is.

Literally means “actually” and “without exaggeration.” To wit: When I told him to go fly a kite, I didn’t mean for him to literally do it.

Literally is overused these days, primarily because it’s become an intensifier, as in I was literally on fire. Arguably, it’s also misused, for literally as an intensifier virtually means the opposite of “actually” and “without exaggeration.”

When literally is used as an intensifier, the speaker probably should have used figuratively.

Figuratively means something is “metaphorical,” as in The wildfire figuratively cast a shadow over the holidays.

So remember – when using these two words don’t literally mix up your apples and oranges!


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.