The Grammar Guru: Do you literally mean literally?

The Grammar Guru is obsessed with the English language. Literally.
The Grammar Guru is obsessed with the English language. Literally.

Mekita Rivas, SNR communications associate, publishes a biweekly feature called "Grammar Guru."

Every other week, the Grammar Guru will share writing tips to help make your work as polished as possible. Some of these tips may address common spelling errors, while others will examine the many nuances of the English language.

Grammar Guru Tip #5
The term "literally" has seen a surge in usage recently – from everyday dialogue to pop culture references, "literally" seems to LITERALLY be everywhere!

The problem is, since it's becoming such a common word, are we losing sight of its actual meaning?

Remember: "Literally" means that exactly what you say is true – without any exaggeration, analogies or metaphors. When you say, "I literally…", it means you're describing something exactly as it happened; in other words, you are being literal.


Avoid saying things like: "I was so embarrassed, I literally died." (Clearly you did not die, because you wouldn't be able to comment on how embarrassing it was, now would you?)

Instead, rework your words to describe your feelings figuratively: "I died of embarrassment." (You probably could have died – though likely not of embarrassment – but you didn't, and that's a good thing, right?)

Need some grammar guidance? The UNL Style Guide ( is a great resource for all university employees. If you have writing questions that the style guide doesn't answer, feel free to email the Grammar Guru at