What is hyperbole?

Go over the top to underscore what matters with hyperbole. 

Taylor Hartley

Taylor Hartley

February 20, 2024

What is hyperbole?

Go over the top to underscore what matters with hyperbole. 

Taylor Hartley

Taylor Hartley

Feb 20, 2024

What is hyperbole?

Go over the top to underscore what matters with hyperbole. 

Taylor Hartley

Taylor Hartley

Feb 20, 2024

Key takeaways

  • Exaggeration is emphasis – Hyperbole is all about making things seem more than they actually are for the sake of emphasis.
  • Hyperbole takes many forms – Some hyperbole examples involve a single word while others can be sprawling descriptions.
  • Use with care – The more you use hyperbole, the less effective it becomes.

Hyperbole is, without question, the most important figurative device you’ll ever encounter. Not really, of course, but the drama that exaggeration creates has some impact and can do wonders for getting a point across. That’s hyperbole’s entire deal; you exaggerate for emphasis. 

What is hyperbole?

Hyperbole, broadly speaking, is any statement or action that exaggerates the truth to figuratively emphasize something. These statements are meant to be transparently exaggerated, though, so readers are not meant to take the statement literally. That means that hyperboles are not simply lies but are a way for people to express heightened emotions and enthusiasm. 

We see hyperbole all the time, and that’s not an exaggeration. Someone in a bad mood may proclaim that they are having the worst day ever, or someone may bite into a cheeseburger so good that they swear they could just die from it. Hyperbole is a major part of human expression. 

Hyperbole in speeches

Speeches are meant to get a crowd riled up and ready for action. A singer may get on stage and talk about how the city they are in is the greatest in the country to get the crowd pumped for the show and in a great mood from the start. A politician may speak to a crowd of farmers and proclaim that agriculture is their absolute priority and that farmers are the greatest citizens. These exaggerations are meant to manipulate the emotions of the audience to make them more receptive to whatever message or concept the speaker is touting. 

Hyperbole in sports

A classic football stereotype is the player falling to the ground in apparent agony after a slight bump from an opposing player. This hyperbolic act is an attempt to evoke sympathy or to encourage referees to penalise the other player. Sometimes, the exaggerated suffering is encouraged to add drama to a game or match. 

Hyperbole in conversation

We use hyperbole often in conversations as a way to add emotional emphasis. You might hear someone declare that they have had the best day ever after a particularly good day. Of course, that person has likely had better days, but the hyperbole helps convey the true extent of their emotions. 

How to use hyperbole in your writing

Effective hyperbole is meant to be easily perceived as an exaggeration. This means that you are not making claims that could simply come across as lies. The exaggerations need to be so over-the-top that readers know you are not being literal. In addition to that, you should also ask yourself a few questions before making the statement.

Questions to ask before you use hyperbole

  • What emotion are you trying to convey? Your hyperbole is going to look very different if you are trying to convey extreme happiness versus extreme anger. You need to have a clear understanding of the exact idea or emotion you are trying to convey before you start.  
  • What exactly about the topic do you want to emphasise? You know you want to use hyperbole to describe your favourite restaurant and how happy it makes you, but what about the restaurant do you want to focus on? Do you want to target the food, the atmosphere, or the customer service? A good hyperbole is targeted and specific, so focus on the right details. 
  • Who is your audience? You can use hyperbole by simply exaggerating certain details, but comparisons can make your hyperbole even more effective. If the cookie you had was “the size of the moon,” your audience has a frame of reference for just how big that cookie was. Think about your audience and what they would understand and respond to the best. 

Examples of hyperbole

You’ve likely seen hyperbole many times without realising it. This figurative device pops up from famous novels to powerful speeches. 

In speeches

Orators love to use hyperbole to get a crowd riled up and ready to go. They often target specific emotions and use hyperbole to push those emotions over the top.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!” – Winston Churchill

“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours…” – Chief Seattle

In literature

Authors have a wide array of literary devices to pull from, and hyperbole is a reliable staple in their repertoire. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“It was so cold that even the brass monkeys in the street were shivering.” – Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

“The room was a furnace, the bed a tomb.” – Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Explore hyperbole with DoodleEnglish

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FAQs about hyperbole

By itself, literally can be the opposite of hyperbole if used to describe something as actually literal or real. However, many people often use “literally” as a synonym for “figuratively” and use it to preface a hyperbole. An example would be “I am literally dying of hunger” coming from someone who skipped lunch. 

Hyperbole is a great way to convey the extent of a speaker’s emotions. Hyperboles should be used sparingly, though. Too much exaggeration makes each moment of exaggeration less impactful. 

Since hyperbole targets emotions, it can be an effective way to appeal to the feelings of the audience. You should think about the emotion you want your audience to feel and pick examples and comparisons that heighten that specific emotion. An emotional audience can be easier to sway if the emotions align with your goals. 

Hyperbole is an example of extreme exaggeration to the point where the audience is supposed to understand that the extent of the exaggeration is unrealistic. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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