I have found the following definition for the verb to steam:

to steam = to move or proceed with energy or force

in the context:

We steamed south. From the sea we could see the extent of the development on Coconut Island.

As far as I understand, it is not used with its literal meaning.

Question: What adjective defines that a word is used not in a literal, indierect meaning?

  • 4
    not literal = figurative.
    – Stephie
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 8:01
  • figurative = metaphoric Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 13:07
  • 3
    @Stephie to be fair, if we want to believe modern dictionaries, now figurative = literal too.
    – Waterseas
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:29
  • 3
    There's a more relevant definition: "(of a ship or train) travel somewhere under steam power." From the context, it seems like that's the definition that's being used. Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


The answer to your direct question is figurative.

Additionally, I'd like to address your understanding of steam in the sentence that you provided. Its literal meaning is actually being applied in that sentence; it's just a different meaning than the one you found. The meaning of steam in that sentence is "verb 3. (of a ship or train) travel somewhere under steam power." So the sentence "We steamed south" has the meaning, "We traveled south on a steam-powered ship."

  • @DenisKulagin You're welcome. I'm glad I could help!
    – pyobum
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 8:30
  • 2
    A not literal use of Steam would be "After I told him he was stupid, he was steaming." Steaming meaning "mad, angry"
    – user18565
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:09
  • Some native speakers now use literally to mean figuratively. This is confusing, and what some may consider 'wrong' but such usage exists. As in: The kids were literally walking on the ceiling.
    – user6951
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:44
  • 1
    @δοῦλος The literally in that case actually doesn't mean figuratively. The sentence as a whole has a figurative meaning, but the function of literally is not to convey the meaning figuratively, as omitting it would not remove the figurative connotation. Instead, literally is used here as an intensifier. Their metaphorical "walking on the ceiling"-ness is even greater than what would be implied by the sentence "The kids were walking on the ceiling."
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:07
  • @R.M. Yes,literally is an intensifier there. But, as such, it carries the opposite meaning of 'literally' as in 'to the letter'. So we have two usages of literally, and they have opposite meanings. I guess that's more the point I was trying to make.
    – user6951
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 18:10

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