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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Literally - an overused word?

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Did you hear the storm last night?

Yeah, lightning struck a tree across the street.


Yeah, I literally jumped out of my skin.

Is it possible to literally jump out of your skin?

We had an interesting question from a viewer called Peter.

He said, ‘I hear people saying literally for almost everything.

It seems like an overuse of the word.

What do you think about it?’


Some people use this word a lot.

You say lit-er-all-y. 4 syllables.


What do you say then?

I can say it the same way, but if Im speaking fast, I say lit(e)-ral-ly.


Three syllables.

Is that a British English thing?

I think so.

But the next question is: what does literally mean?

It has three meanings.

The first one is in a literal wayso with the exact meaning of the words youre using.

The traditional dress of Japan is akimono’, which literally means athing to wear’.

And heres another Japanese word: karate.

It literally means the 'art of empty hands'.

If we mean something literally, it means according to the actual words.

The words with their most basic meaning.

OK, thats the first meaning.

What about the second?

Its similar.

Literally can mean something likereallyor 'in truth’.

We say literally when something is surprising and we want to emphasize that it is true.

There are literally more than three trillion trees on earth.

Thats more trees than there are stars in the galaxy.

And heres another surprising thing.

Did you know that moose are good swimmers?

They can literally swim six miles an hour.

Thats about 10 kilometers an hour.

But how far can they swim?

A long way.

They can keep going for two hours or more.

Theyre literally excellent swimmers.

So literally means 'truly' or 'really' in that sentence.

It was surprising, but there was no exaggeration.


And the third meaning of literally is a little different.

Thats when we useliterallyto emphasize things.

So surprising things again.

But this time, theyre not true.

Theyre false.

Lets see how it works.

I cant home yet.

Im literally up to my ears in work.

It was so funny.

We literally died laughing.

Shes literally as tall as a house.

The exam was so hard, his head literally exploded.

Im so hungry I could literally eat a horse.

Or maybe not.

I was so surprised you could have literally knocked me down with a feather.

Im leaving.

No wait.

Itll literally only take me two seconds to get to you.

See! Literally two secomds.

Theres a technical word for examples like this: hyperbole.

Hyperbolefour syllables.

Hyperbole is when we exaggerate to add emphasis, or just because it sounds funny.

So lets review the three meanings and see how they compare.

The first meaning is about the literal meaning of words and its exact and very factual.

The second meaning is factual too, but this time it adds emphasis to say something is

really true.

The third meaning adds emphasis as well.

But here, you change the original meaning of the words and exaggerate.

Notice that meaning one and meaning three are very different.

Theyre practically opposites.

In meanings one and two, youre being factual and telling the truth.

But with meaning three, you dont stick to the original meaning of the words.

Instead of telling the truth, you exaggerate to get an effect.

Some people think its wrong to use literally with meaning three.

Its controversial and people have strong opinions about it.

They think you should just use meanings one and two.

But youll hear meaning three a lot in spoken English.

Its pretty informal and its becoming more frequent.

Is meaning three a new usage of the word?

People are using it more often but actually its an old usage.

Lots of great writers in English literature have used it for effect.

It was used by great writers like Charles Dickens.

And F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And James Joyce.

William Thackeray.

And Charlotte Brontë So do you think its OK to use literally

to exaggerate?

Yes and no.

Yes, because people use it that way and its becoming more common.

Oh right.

You cant stop language change.


But also maybe no, because a lot of people complain about it.

Then perhaps use it, but just a little.

Yes, not too often.

I think people complain about when its used too much.

And also because they dont like the idea that one word can have two opposite meanings.

But there are other words that do that.

For example: wicked.

Yes, wicked can mean evil.

So a wicked witch is very bad.

But in informal English, wicked can also meanvery good’.

For example, we can say someone has a wicked sense of humor, and it means its very good.

There arent many words with two opposite meanings like this, but there are a few.

Lets see if you can spot one.

To dust is an interesting verb because if youre cleaning your house, you dust it.

Dust means removing the dust.

But dust can also mean to cover something with sugar or flour.

So if youre baking cakes you can dust them with sugar.

So dust can mean removing or applying.

It has opposite meanings.

Sometimes an English word can have two opposite meanings.

And literally is one of them.

So are we done?

Yes, thats literally all we have for you this week.

If youve enjoyed this video please, share it with a friend.

And dont forget to subscribe everyone.

See you all next week.



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