This matter bogged me down for quite a while.

That is, I don't understand why the word "literally" is used a lot while "figuratively" is not common in everyday English.

In stead of using "figuratively", people often use "metaphor" or something like that.

For example, "when I said 'we're in the same boat', I meant it literally".

I rarely hear people say "...I meant it figuratively". In stead, they say "I used it as a metaphor" or something like that. I am not so sure how they express it.

Is it more common to use the word "figuratively" or "metaphor" to require listeners to understand the meaning in a figurative way?

  • 1
    "Figuratively" and "Metaphorically" both work equally well.
    – myacorn
    Jan 12, 2022 at 13:04
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    "We are, figuratively, both in the same boat" sounds OK (except that it's such a common metaphor that no-one would need to explain that it was one). Jan 12, 2022 at 13:24
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    If you stand in the kitchen, and say "we are in the same boat" or "we are on the same page", there is no need to add "figuratively (speaking)" because it's obvious. Literally, on the other hand, is often overused/misused. Jan 12, 2022 at 14:09
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    By the way, "literally" can mean "figuratively" Jan 12, 2022 at 14:14
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    @Andrew Tobilko: I'm glad that dictionary adds, "Some find this objectionable on the grounds that it is not the primary meaning of the word." Jan 12, 2022 at 14:33

1 Answer 1


Normally people don't need to emphasise that a commonly used figurative expression is to be understood figuratively. If someone says "We're in the same boat." (and you are not actually sitting next to them in a boat) then it is understood to be figurative. There is no need to say "That's figurative".

If, for some reason, you need to explain this, you can use "metaphorically" or "figuratively". "Figuratively" and "Metaphorically" both work equally well.

On the other hand, if you are writing an essay about the use of non-literal language, then you'd better use the words in their technically precise meaning, and don't use "metaphor" when you mean "simile" or "hyperbole" or some other figure of speech.

As noted in the comments, it is not unusual to use "literally" as an intensifier with a figurative expression.

Oh wow! You have the 'flu but need to write an essay by Monday too. So do I! We are, like, literally in the same boat!!

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