What Is Hyperbole? | Definition & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  March 7, 2024 3 min read

Hyperbole is the use of exaggerated language that is not meant to be taken literally. This is usually done to emphasize a point or add humor to a situation. We encounter hyperboles in various contexts, including literature, advertising, and everyday conversations.

Hyperbole examples
How’ve you been? I haven't seen you for ages.
It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop a mile away.
He was as tall as a skyscraper.
There’s enough food in the cupboard to feed an entire army.

Hyperbole definition

A hyperbole is a figure of speech that employs rhetorical exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. It involves extravagant statements or claims that are obviously untrue. Hyperboles are not the same as lying. Whereas hyperbolic statements are meant to be recognized and interpreted as figurative language, lying involves making false statements with the intent to deceive.

Hyperbolic expressions can be words, phrases, or clauses. Phrases and clauses often contain comparisons, such as “He avoids public transport like the plague,” or repetition, like “She puts loads and loads of sugar in her coffee.” They commonly use words like “completely,” “everyone,” and “every time,” as well as superlatives.

Hyperboles are often accomplished via other figures of speech, like similes (“Nana was as old as the hills”) and metaphors (“You’re a monster”). We often use them to emphasize a particular quality, such as shape, size, or amount, or to make something sound bigger, better, worse, etc., than it is. Hyperboles are commonly used in literature, poetry, speeches, and everyday language.

Note
One of the most frequently used words in hyperbolic statements is “literally,” as in the phrase “They were literally glued to their seats.” Although many dictionaries acknowledge this usage as a hyperbole meant to add emphasis or express a strong feeling, some individuals criticize it as a misuse of the word. For them, it contradicts the word’s traditional meaning (something that is true in a strict or literal sense).

Why do we use hyperbole?

Overall, hyperbole transforms ordinary language into something extraordinary. We use it both in writing and speech to achieve different purposes and effects.

  • In literature, authors use hyperbole to draw more attention to a particular element in their work, making it more memorable and impactful. For example, the line from  Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act 2, Scene 2) “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” paints a vivid scene. Also, authors often add humor or drama by blowing things out of proportion, making their work more entertaining for the audience.
  • Advertisements also frequently use hyperbole to promote products or create catchy slogans. For example, many ads exaggerate product features, as seen in slogans like “Red bull gives you wings” or “King of Beers.”
  • In public speaking, hyperboles are used to craft memorable messages that stick in people’s minds long after the speech is over. Politicians, for instance, use exaggerated language to evoke emotions and create a sense of urgency that ultimately helps them motivate listeners to take action or support a cause.

Hyperbole examples

A famous example of hyperbole can be found in Johnathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

Hyperbole example in literature
In his satirical essay, Swift suggests that poor Irish families should sell their children as food to wealthy English landlords to solve economic problems. Of course, Swift does not mean that in earnest. By assuming a hyperbolically heartless tone, he mocks politicians and officials who do not empathize with the Irish poor and instead propose quick-fix schemes. The exaggerated nature of the proposal serves as a thought-provoking comment on England’s legal and economic exploitation of Ireland.

Brands use hyperbole in their marketing to grab the audience’s attention and make their products appear irresistible or extraordinary to potential customers. Here are some mottos and taglines that employ intentional exaggeration:

Hyperbole example in advertising
“It’s the only brand cats ask for by name.” — Meow Mix
“The happiest place on earth” — Disneyland
“Like walking on air” — Skechers
“The ultimate driving machine” — BMW
“Breakfast of champions” — Wheaties

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Idioms

Parts of speech

Fallacies

Diamond in the rough

Irregular verb

Slippery slope fallacy

Idioms

Gerund

Sunk cost fallacy

Piece of cake

Infinitive phrase

Red herring fallacy

Better late than never

Infinitive

Appeal to authority fallacy

Salt of the earth

Adverb

Circular reasoning fallacy


What is an example of hyperbole?

An example of hyperbole is the phrase “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” which emphasizes extreme hunger. By using such obvious exaggeration and vivid imagery, the speaker effectively communicates the extent of their hunger.

How is hyperbole pronounced?

Hyperbole is pronounced “hye-PER-buh-lee,” with the accent or emphasis on the second syllable. In contrast, other words that start with the prefix “hyper-” (e.g., “hyperlink” or the adjective “hyper”) place the accent or emphasis on the first syllable.

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Kassiani

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.

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