How to Say “Literally” and “Figuratively” in French

When it comes to expressing the concepts of “literally” and “figuratively” in French, there are different options depending on the formality of the register and the context in which you are communicating. In this guide, we will explore various ways to convey these concepts in both formal and informal settings, providing you with plenty of tips and examples along the way.

Formal Expressions

Let’s start by looking at formal ways to express “literally” and “figuratively” in French.

1. Literally

In formal language, the most common way to say “literally” in French is “littéralement.” This word is straightforward and widely understood.


“Le bâtiment est littéralement en feu.” (The building is literally on fire.)

2. Figuratively

To convey the notion of “figuratively” in a formal context, the appropriate French term to use is “figurativement.”


“Son discours a figurativement enchanté la foule.” (His speech figuratively enchanted the crowd.)

Using these terms in formal discussions or writing will ensure you maintain a polite and proper tone.

Informal Expressions

Now we will explore more casual and colloquial alternatives to “literally” and “figuratively” in French, suitable for informal situations or everyday conversations.

1. Literally

In informal French, people often use the word “carrément” to convey the sense of “literally.” Though “carrément” may also be applied figuratively, it generally works well in most informal contexts.


“J’ai carrément oublié mon sac à la maison.” (I literally forgot my bag at home.)

2. Figuratively

A popular way to express “figuratively” in informal French is by using the term “au sens figuré.” This phrase directly translates to “in the figurative sense.”


“Il coule, au sens figuré, sous le poids de ses problèmes.” (He is figuratively sinking under the weight of his problems.)

Using these informally acceptable terms ensures you maintain a relaxed and friendly tone when communicating with friends, family, or colleagues in casual settings.

Additional Tips and Variations

Here are some additional tips and variations to help you master the usage of “literally” and “figuratively” in different contexts:

1. Avoiding Literal Translations

Literal word-for-word translations from English to French may not always convey the intended meaning. It’s essential to understand the nuances and cultural context to ensure accurate communication.

2. Be Mindful of Context

The choice of using formal or informal expressions for “literally” and “figuratively” depends on the situation. Consider the context, the people you are speaking with, and the desired level of formality before making your choice.

3. Regional Variations

While French is spoken throughout various regions, the expressions provided in this guide are universally understood in most Francophone areas. However, slight regional variations may exist. It’s always good to consult locals or experienced French speakers about regional differences if necessary.

4. Mixing Formal and Informal

In some cases, you may need to use both formal and informal expressions in your communication. For instance, if you are writing a formal essay but wish to add a touch of informality, you can use “carrément” or “au sens figuré” sparingly without undermining the overall tone.

5. Practice and Immersion

The more you engage with the French language, the better grasp you will have on how to use expressions like “literally” and “figuratively” in different situations. Continuously practicing and immersing yourself in the language will help develop your skills and boost your confidence.

Remember, language is fluid and evolving, so always stay open to learning new expressions and adapting to changes in language usage.


Understanding how to convey “literally” and “figuratively” in French is key to effective communication. Whether you are aiming for a formal or informal tone, this guide has equipped you with various expressions to suit your needs. Remember to consider the context, regional variations, and your desired level of formality when choosing the appropriate expressions. Happy communicating!

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