Professional Style

Literally

November 2013
Spot the Error

Bert had to work late last night; he was literally buried in paperwork.

Literally is frequently used to add emphasis to a statement. And, it is almost as frequently used incorrectly for hyperbole or exaggeration. For example:

The stack of pancakes was a mile high, literally.

Ironically, literally means free from exaggeration, and is synonymous with actually.

In the “paperwork” sentence above, since Bert wasn’t actually buried under paper, the sentence could be corrected by either removing literally or replacing it with figuratively, practically or some other similar word.

Remember, literally means, “I’m not exaggerating,” so don’t use it to exaggerate. If you do, you’ll sound silly. Literally.

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