figuratively, literally, virtually
These words are often wrongly used to convey the opposite of their real meaning.
Figuratively means “not literally, not really.”
- Voltaire was speaking figuratively when he described Canada as “a few acres of snow.”
Literally means “really, actually.”
- When we went outside, the howling wind made our hair stand on end quite literally.
Virtually means “practically, for all practical purposes.”
- The winter was quite mild: virtually all of my roses have survived.
Using literally for emphasis with the loose meaning of “virtually” or “almost” is not recommended.
- Incorrect: I literally died laughing when I heard that joke.
- Correct: I almost died laughing when I heard that joke.
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