You’d think that this would be an easy one, but many people misuse the word literally. Literally means in reality or actually. If something happens literally, it really occurs. Figuratively refers to imagination or something that is hypothetical. When something happens figuratively, it doesn’t really occur.
“She barked like a dog, literally.” Right or wrong? Wrong. Unless we’re talking about a German Shepherd, or a little schnauzer, a human woman can’t bark like a dog literally. She can bark like a dog metaphorically or figuratively speaking, but we wouldn’t phrase it that way. We would probably just say, “She barked like a dog!”
So, what’s the right way to use the term literally? “Forty-five people stood in line at the Dairy Queen on a hot summer night, but the DQ literally only had enough ice cream to feed twenty-nine of them.” As long as it took place and it makes sense in the real world, you can say literally.
Figuratively encompasses different forms of speech like metaphors and similies, when we compare something to something it’s not. The barking dog is a good example of a simile, which is a form of figurative speech that usually uses the term “like” or “as.” “He looked like a ghost” and “he swam like a fish” are both similies.
Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor http://tinyurl.com/7wnk5se and two erotic short stories, which she wrote under the pen name Tiffanie Good. Silver Publishing just released “The Pink Triangle,” a tale of friendship, lust, and betrayal. You can view her story here: http://tinyurl.com/6v65rgr