Overstatement | Definition, Meaning & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  March 15, 2024 4 min read

An overstatement is an exaggeration that makes something seem more important or serious than it really is. We often use overstatements when we explain or describe something and want to amplify the effect of our words.  

Overstatement example
“While her performance in the movie was compelling, calling it ‘Oscar-worthy’ would be an overstatement.”

Overstatements are used in various contexts, such as politics, advertising, and everyday conversation. However, we must be cautious of them as they can be misleading due to their exaggerated nature.

Overstatement definition

An overstatement is a claim that goes beyond what most would consider reasonable or warranted. It is a rhetorical device often employed by speakers or writers to persuade their audiences, create humor, or elicit a specific emotional response. When we say something is an overstatement, we mean it is described in an extreme way to emphasize its importance or impressiveness.

An example of overstatement would be a politician claiming that if an opponent were to be elected, it would destroy the economy and society as we know it. Even though this is an exaggeration and not actually true, politicians intentionally use such statements to rally support for their agendas. The danger here is that overstatements like this can distort the truth or mislead an audience.

Overstatement vs hyperbole

Overstatement and hyperbole are frequently used interchangeably as synonyms for exaggeration or magnification. However, some sources point out that there is a subtle difference between the two:

  • Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim that is typically understood as a form of figurative language. When a friend tells us “I’m so tired, I could sleep for days,” we know that it should not be taken literally and that our friend wants to emphasize how tired they are.
  • An overstatement, on the other hand, may not always be recognized as exaggerated language. On the contrary, it can sometimes border on being misleading or deceptive. Sometimes people may stretch the truth and overstate things to manipulate situations or individuals to their advantage. For example, in a business negotiation, someone might overstate the value of their product to secure a higher price.

In short, while both hyperbole and overstatement involve exaggeration, hyperbole is more explicitly recognized as figurative language, whereas overstatement may not always be identified as such and can thus lead to misconceptions.

Overstatement vs understatement

The opposite of overstatement is understatement. To get a better grasp of the words’ meanings, it is helpful to look at where they come from. Both words originate from “statement”  with the addition of the prefixes “over” and “under.” A statement is just a way of expressing an idea or feeling. Now, when we add the prefixes we get the following:

  • Understatement, which means expressing something in a way that makes it seem less important or intense than it really is. Here, the speaker intentionally downplays the significance of a situation for various purposes, such as humor, politeness, or emphasis. For example, describing a severe storm as “a bit of rain” would be an understatement.
  • Overstatement, which means expressing something in a way that makes it seem more important or intense than it really is. For example, if someone claims that after studying for just one night, they knew the entire textbook by heart, this is most likely an overstatement (unless they have a photographic memory).

In other words, when we overstate, we exaggerate something, whereas when we understate, we minimize it.

Overstatement examples

In literature, overstatement serves a similar purpose to hyperbole. It is not intended to be interpreted literally but rather serves to express intense emotions and leave a lasting impact.

In the following lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 5), Romeo resorts to overstatement to express his awe and admiration for Juliet’s beauty.

Overstatement example in literature

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

In everyday life, we often use overstatements for persuasion.

Overstatement example in everyday life

“I convinced my cousin to help me move the furniture by telling him my back felt like it was being squashed by an elephant. In reality, it was just sore from sitting too long, but I knew he wouldn’t help unless I exaggerated how much pain I was in.”

In some contexts, overstatement has a negative connotation. In accounting, for instance, “overstatement” means that a figure shown in the books of accounts is greater than the actual figure.

Overstatement examples in accounting

If you list a higher value for a property than its market price, this constitutes an overstatement of its worth.

Alternatively, if a business records the value of office supplies twice on the balance sheet, this is an overstatement of assets.

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 overstatement?

An example of overstatement is calling an insightful research study “groundbreaking,” when this description exaggerates the study’s significance beyond what is warranted. While the study may be important, calling it “groundbreaking” implies a level of innovation that sets a new standard or breaks new ground in its field.

What are some common synonyms for overstatement?

Some common synonyms for “overstatement” are “exaggeration,” “magnification,” “hyperbole,” and “embroidering.” These terms refer to the act of making something seem greater, more important, or more dramatic than it is. They are often used interchangeably in many contexts to convey the idea of amplifying something.

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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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