Know the Difference Between Literally and Figuratively

Literally CHILLin’ Figuratively CHILLin’


Literally or Figuratively?

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually have very different meanings.



Literally should only be used to describe a true situation.

Literally Correct

The examples above are describing actual situations that happened exactly as explained.

Literally Incorrect

These examples (above) are untrue and therefore are not literal scenarios.


Figuratively Correct

The examples above are not true. Therefore, the term “figuratively” correctly describes these situations.

Figuratively Incorrect

These examples (above) are facts. Thus, “literally” should have been used because “figuratively” should only be used symbolically.

Although people often use “literally” to mean both actually and symbolically, the term has only one correct definition.

So is the whole world wrong?

The easy answer is “yes.” Figuratively should be used for metaphors and hyperboles, while literally should be reserved only for true statements.

However, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Traffic was so terrible that I figuratively died of old age before I made it home.” People just don’t use “figuratively” in daily speech. Does that mean that no one on this planet understands the meaning of the word?

Of course not. In my opinion, people say, “I literally died of old age while sitting in traffic” in the same way that they would say, “I spent 1000 hours in the car trying to get home from work today.” The term “literally” is simply used in daily speech as an exaggeration. No one means they actually died when they say they literally died because, of course, people can’t speak once they’re dead.

While “figuratively” should be used for these exaggerations, the term just doesn’t have the same effect as “literally.” After all, people really only exaggerate for effect, right? Sorry fellow grammar Nazis.

Think of the difference between these two exaggerations:

Waves example

While in reality the waves were only six feet high, which statement really drives the point home? I think of using “literally” versus “figuratively” in an exaggeration in the same way. Sure, you could say, “I’m so hungry I could figuratively eat 12 large pizzas.” But does it really make you sound as famished as, “I’m so hungry I could literally eat 12 large pizzas?”


In conclusion…

Do I notice when someone says “literally” and probably means “figuratively?” Of course, I am a certified grammar Nazi after all. Do I assume that person does not understand the meaning of the word he used? No. In most cases, the individual is just trying to make a point through exaggeration.

Then why bother?

It is still important to know the difference between “literally” and “figuratively.” You certainly don’t want to get them wrong in your writing or unintentionally use the wrong term in a professional situation.

Thomas Edison quote

If there are any words that you find particularly confusing, let me know in the comments. (Choose COMMENT in the top right corner of this blog.) You just might see it addressed in another blog.

For any editing, grammar, writing or website assistance, shoot a note to Unscripted through the Contact page.

Conundrums Welcome


Is there a particular grammatical rule that you just can’t wrap your head around? Do you find yourself struggling with a certain word or phrase over and over again?

Reach out with your conundrums and you just might see them answered in the next blog.

Unscripted wants to provide Tips and Tricks for everyday use. That means providing information that YOU need.

Leave a comment above or contact Unscripted here

Here are a few examples of previous posts based on common human errors:

Five Common Grammar Mistakes 

When to Say I and When to Say Me

I Before E…Right?

Assure, Insure or Ensure?

Quick Guide to Understanding Prepositions

Don’t forget to follow Unscripted’s blog to see if your conundrum appears in the future!

Quick Guide to Understanding Prepositions


You have probably heard someone say, “Never end a sentence with a preposition.” But do you know what that means or why it is a grammatical no-no?

A simple Google search will give you a list of prepositions or prepositional phrases (a partial list is located at the end of this blog). Prepositions show the relationship between two words: the object of the preposition and another word in the sentence.


The preposition in the above example is “in.” To find the object of the preposition, ask “what?” The couple was dancing in what? Rain. The object of the preposition is the rain.

So what makes “in” the preposition? It explains the relationship between the dancing couple and the rain. Without the word “in,” we would not know if the couple was dancing while watching the rain, dancing for the rain or dancing after the rain. We need the preposition to explain the relationship.

How to Spot a Preposition

Consider a chair. Any action that you can take regarding that chair is likely a preposition. You can sit on, walk around, step over, crawl under, stare at, walk between, place something in, reach across, set something on or walk to the chair. These are all prepositions.

Prepositional Phrases

A preposition by itself will often get you into trouble (grammatical trouble anyway). Therefore, understanding prepositional phrases can help you avoid inadvertently ending a sentence with a preposition.

Prepositional phrases typically answer the questions, Where, When, How, How Many, Which One and What Kind?

The first word in a prepositional phrase is the preposition.


People often end sentences with prepositions in common speech. (Example: What’s up?) However, written English is expected to adhere more closely to proper grammar rules.

Now we understand why Winston S. Churchill once said, “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” He was referring to the confusing rule that one should not end a sentence with a preposition, even when using slang.

 Before sending an email or submitting your manuscript, do a quick check for sentences ending in prepositions. Here is an easy reference guide to help.

List of Common Prepositions

If you’re still not sure whether or not you’re using prepositions correctly, contact Unscripted for assistance.

I Before E…Right?

You have probably heard the phrase “I before E.” You may even know the longer version, “I before E except after C.” If you’re really lucky, you learned the compound version, “I before E except after C and when sounding like A.”

So what does all that mean?

I before E

Most English words that have an “ie” combination are spelled with the “i” first.

I Before E

Except after C

Many words where the “ei” comes after the letter C are spelled with the “e” first.

Except After C

Or when sounding like A

When the “ei” in the word is pronounced as an “A,” the “e” before “i” exception applies.

Or When Sounding like A

Additional Exceptions

The rule should really be “I before E except after C and when sounding like A, E or I and when ending in ING and when the ‘c’ makes a ‘sh’ sound and when used in a comparative/superlative and in some compound words and in other random instances when the English language deems the exception necessary.” In this case, a run-on sentence was necessary.

Random Exceptions

Here is some solid advice from one of Brian Regan’s comedy acts about his time in school:

Brian Regan

Good luck, folks.

If you struggle with this or the many other grammar rules and exceptions, seek help through the Contact page at


Five Common Grammar Mistakes

Charlie Brown

Even grammar Nazis make the occasional error. Here are a few of the most common grammar mistakes so you can avoid making them.

Its or It’s?

This is one of those exceptions that grammar Nazis are always discussing. In most cases, s makes a word possessive. However, with “it” the s makes it a contraction for “it is.” The possessive form is just its.

Its or It's.

There, Their or They’re?

Many people know the difference in these three words but they find themselves accidentally messing them up anyway. Be sure to double-check your usage when you proofread because, like many homonyms, this can be a tricky one for the untrained eye to catch.

There, Their, They're

Personal Pronouns for Entities

Personal pronouns such as “who/whom” or “they” are reserved for humans. Everything else is “it” or “that.”

Personal Pronouns for Entities

In the first sentence, the narrator is looking for a person, referred to as a “whom.” In the second sentence, the pronoun is referring to a company so “it” is the correct term.

Then or Than?

Then is used to reference time. Than is always (and only) used in comparisons.

Then or Than

“Of” Instead of “Have”

This is an error that many people don’t even know they’re making. It pertains to sentences that contain the words should, could or would. You may not think twice before saying something like “I should of gone to bed earlier last night.” However, the correct phrase is “I should have gone to bed earlier last night.”

Of Instead of Have

Think always have, never of.

These are only a few of the most common errors people make in everyday communication.
If you would like a professional to review something you have written for these and other common errors, visit the Contact page at