Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a technique that uses exaggeration to emphasise a point, or express and evoke a strong emotion.

Hyperbole Hyperbole

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Table of contents

    Do you want a simple way to remember the definition of hyperbole? Memorise the four words in bold above! Let’s call them the Four E’s:

    1. Exaggeration

    2. Emphasise

    3. Express

    4. Evoke

    Hyperbole is a figure of speech, which is a literary device that is not supposed to be taken literally. You should focus on the figurative meaning instead.

    Why is hyperbole used?

    Hyperbole is often used by people who purposely want to make something seem dramatically greater than it really is, or amplify their feelings and experiences. So why would someone want to do this? Well, it is an effective way to get your point across! Exaggerating a situation is a good way to express strong emotions and emphasise your point. It can also be used to create humour and make things seem more dramatic.

    Hyperbole, A range of different emotions, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Different emotions can be exaggerated through the use of hyperbole.

    What are some examples of hyperbole?

    There are lots of examples of hyperbolic language, so you may have already heard of a few! We will first look at some common examples of hyperbole from everyday language. Then, we will look at the use of hyperbole as a literary device in well-known literature.

    Hyperbole in everyday language

    “She takes forever to get ready in the morning”

    In this phrase, the word ‘forever’ is used by the speaker to imply that the person (she) is taking a very long time to get ready. However, it is not really possible to take ‘forever’ when getting ready. ‘Forever’ is used figuratively to exaggerate the amount of time it takes for her to get ready. It could also be used to express a feeling of impatience, as the speaker may be annoyed by how long she is taking.

    “These shoes are killing me”

    In this phrase, the word ‘killing’ is used by the speaker to overstate the sense of discomfort. The shoes aren’t literally killing the speaker! The speaker is letting others know that the shoes they are wearing are not comfortable to walk in.

    “I’ve told you a million times”

    In this phrase, the word ‘million’ is used by the speaker to emphasise the number of times they have told someone something. It is unlikely that they actually said something a million times, but they are instead using exaggeration to convey a sense of frustration, as they may not be paying attention. This phrase is often used when someone tells another person something many times, but they either do not remember it or do not listen!

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    “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse”

    In this phrase, the speaker is emphasising the feeling of hunger and exaggerating how much they will be able to eat. They are so hungry, they feel as though they can eat a large amount of food that would be impossible for them to actually eat! If the speaker is saying this to someone who is cooking some food, this could be a way for them to express their impatience as they may be waiting to eat.

    “This bag weighs a ton”

    In this phrase, the word ‘ton’ is used by the speaker to suggest that the bag is really heavy. It is unlikely that the bag will weigh the same as an actual ‘ton’... If it did, nobody would be able to carry it! Instead, the weight has been emphasised by the speaker to prove that the bag is simply very heavy. This then implies that they find it difficult to carry, or are no longer able to carry it.

    Hyperbole, a man carrying a heavy bag, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Hyperbole can be used to exaggerate an experience.

    Hyperbole in literature

    Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami, 2005)1

    “A huge flash of light went off in his brain and everything went white. He stopped breathing. It felt as if he’d been thrown from the top of a tall tower into the depths of hell.

    Hyperbole is used here to describe the pain felt by the character Hoshino. In particular, Murakami emphasises the magnitude of Hoshino’s pain through the imagery of hell.

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 1999)2

    “I won’t go into detail about the whole show, but I had the best time I ever had in my whole life.”

    Hyperbole is used here to highlight the feeling of joy felt by the main character, Charlie. By using the superlative ‘best’, this emphasises the happiness felt by Charlie and the significance of the day.

    Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman, 2017)3

    There have been times when I felt that I might die of loneliness… I truly feel that I might tumble to the ground and pass away if someone doesn’t hold me, touch me.

    Hyperbole is used here to exaggerate the sense of loneliness that the main character, Eleanor, feels. It makes for a dramatic but honest description of the effects of loneliness.

    Hyperbole vs metaphors and similes – what is the difference?

    Metaphors and similes are also examples of figures of speech, as they rely on a figurative meaning to convey a point. They can also both be hyperbolic, but they are not always the same. This could be confusing, but don’t worry! We will now look at the similarities and differences between hyperbole and metaphors/similes, with some examples of each.

    Hyperbole vs metaphor

    A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to describe something by referring directly to something else. It should not be taken literally. Unlike hyperbole, which always uses exaggeration, metaphors only use exaggeration sometimes. Below is an example of a metaphor that does not use exaggeration:

    “Her voice is music to my ears”

    In this phrase, the ‘voice’ is directly compared to ‘music’ to indicate that it is pleasant to listen to.

    Below is an example of a metaphor that uses hyperbole to exaggerate a point. This can be referred to as a hyperbolic metaphor:

    “That man is a monster”

    In this phrase, the ‘man’ is directly referred to as a ‘monster’, which shows that this is an example of a metaphor. However, it also uses hyperbole, as the word ‘monster’ is used to negatively describe the man and exaggerate how awful he is.

    Hyperbole vs simile

    A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things by using words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’. Its meaning should not be taken literally. Like metaphors, similes can also use hyperbolic language to emphasise a point, but they do not always do this. Below is an example of a simile without hyperbole:

    “We are like two peas in a pod”

    This uses ‘like’ to compare two different things: ‘we’ and ‘peas in a pod’. In doing so, it is an imaginative way of describing two people as being close; a good match for one another.

    Below is an example of a simile that uses hyperbole:

    “The person ahead of me walked as slowly as a tortoise”

    This compares someone’s walk to that of a tortoise. However, as we know that tortoises walk slowly, this comparison is used to emphasise how slow the person is walking. Instead of simply saying that the person is ‘walking really slowly’, the simile uses the imagery of the tortoise to help us visualise the speed at which the person is walking. It can also be used to signify a sense of frustration, as the person behind the slow walker is probably impatient or in more of a hurry!

    Hyperbole - Key takeaways

    • Hyperbole is a technique in the English language that uses exaggeration to emphasise something or evoke strong emotions.

    • Hyperbole is a figure of speech, meaning that, rather than a literal meaning, it has a figurative meaning.

    • Hyperbolic language is used frequently in everyday conversation, and also often appears in literature.

    • Although they all use figurative language, metaphors and similes are not always the same as hyperbole. Hyperbole always uses exaggeration, whereas metaphors and similes only use exaggeration sometimes.

    Sources:

    1. Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2005.

    2. Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 1999.

    3. Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, 2017.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Hyperbole

    What is hyperbole?

    Hyperbole is a technique used to emphasise a point or evoke emotion through exaggeration.

    What does hyperbole mean?

    Hyperbole means an exaggeration of something in order to make it seem bigger than it really is.

    How is hyperbole pronounced?

    It's pronounced: high-pur-buh-lee (not high-per-bowl!)

    What is an example of hyperbole?

    An example of hyperbole is: “this is the worst day of my life.” Exaggeration is used for dramatic effect to emphasise a bad day.

    How do you use hyperbole in a sentence?

    A hyperbolic sentence is a sentence that includes a deliberate exaggeration to emphasise a point or emotion, eg. “I’ve been waiting for a million years.”

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following best describes what hyperbole is?

    Which of the following is an example of hyperbole?

    Which of the following is an example of hyperbole?

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