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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.