FAQ - English & Grammar

What is Hyperbole and How is it Used?

What is Hyperbole and How is it Used?

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In simple words, hyperbole means a language that is conveyed through exaggeration, and this exaggeration isn’t meant to be taken literally. The word hyperbole originated from ancient Greek. Although it has multiple interpretations, the word essentially means “throwing beyond”. The usage of hyperbole is quite common among writers because it helps them to strongly emphasize certain sentiments, emotions, or situations. In other words, hyperbole is applied to express something the intensity of which can’t be quite captured by regular phrases. It usually brings in the element of humor, exaggeration, dramatization, and imagination in a sentence. So, when you’re using hyperbole in a sentence, the person who listens to you speak will have the understanding to not take the meaning literally but grasp the intensity of what you’re trying to say.

Here are a few examples to help you understand clearly what it means:

Example 1: “I have a million things to take care of today”

Example 2: “This briefcase weighs a ton”

Example 3: “His brain is the size of a pea“

Example 4: “I woke up with a sense of being marooned in a dystopian future.”

Now that you’ve understood what hyperbole means, make sure you remember that its usage is not to be taken literally. 

How is Hyperbole Used?

Just like similes and metaphors, hyperbole falls in the category of language that is figurative. Many a time, hyperbole even gets incorporated into a simile or a metaphor. Using hyperbole in writing tends to either add a livelier, more humorous flavor to it or takes on a highly imaginative and dramatic effect. Whatever the intent, if used accurately, hyperbole can make all the difference with how something is interpreted. 

The following two sentences will help you understand the difference between a regular sentence and a sentence with hyperbole:

“A lot of people heard James scream when he stubbed his toe.”

“Half the planet could hear James scream when he stubbed his toe.”

Both sentences convey that many people heard James scream. But in the second sentence, a lot more emphasis is made on James’s scream. Now, it’s obvious that it wouldn’t be possible for “half a plant” to hear James scream. However, such a degree of exaggeration intensifies James’s pain on having stubbed his toe. It also brings in the element of humor and drama by conveying a feeling that is entirely over the top.

While it is common for us to use hyperbole (sometimes even unknowingly), there is hardly any possibility of finding it in any form of technical writing. This is largely due to its nature of being very non-objective. However, that changes when it comes to using hyperboles in literature. Read along to discover how hyperboles make literature so interesting. 

How is Hyperbole Used in Literature?

For centuries, writers have been exploring the power of hyperbole in their works. From telling the tales of love to diving into the valleys of despair, hyperbole has always been a powerful figure of speech in literature because of its capacity to turn the commonplace into something purely extraordinary. 

An excellent example of hyperbole in literature would be William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:

“Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in a never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand I saw at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

Although the poet is simply reflecting on a long line of daffodils in the poem, the dramatic exaggeration and grand decorations of words suggest a multitude of emotions that one can associate with the beauty of daffodils forming long rows.

In the following example from Gabriel García Márquez’s “Living to Tell the Tale,” you will notice how the use of hyperbole brings about an infusion of humor: 

"At that time Bogota was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century."

Hyperbole is Everywhere

While hyperbole and literature seem to be constant companions, this special figure of speech also constantly makes its way into our everyday life. Whether it is songs, speeches, movies, or advertisements, we are sure to find it if we listen closely. 

Here are a few more examples of hyperbole being practically omnipresent:

Hyperbole in daily life: 

Example 1: “The class finally got over after five lifetimes.”

Example 2: “They’ve got tons of cash.”

Hyperbole in music:

Example 1: “I would walk 500 miles, And I would walk 500 more, Just to be the man who walked 1,000 miles to fall down at your door.” -The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”

Example 2: “I would fly to the moon and back if you'll be... If you'll be my baby, Got a ticket for a world where we belong, so would you be my baby?” -Savage Garden, “To the Moon and Back”

Hyperbole in commercials: 

Example 1: “Mints so strong they come in a metal box (Altoids)”

Example 2: “Adds amazing luster for infinite, mirror-like shine (Brilliant Brunette shampoo)”

Hyperbole in speeches: 

Example 1: "Please sit down because having produced nine million award shows, I know the producer's up there saying, 'Hurry, say thanks fast’." -Dick Clark, Daytime Emmy Award Acceptance Address

Example 2: "So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." -Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address

Hyperbole vs. Similes and Metaphors 

Although Hyperboles fall in the category of figurative language, they are not meant to be comparisons like metaphors and similes. Hyperboles are extravagant and dramatic overstatements that can sometimes even be ridiculous. They are not meant for drawing comparisons or taking literally. When it comes to literature, hyperboles catch the attention of a reader or display striking contrasts on a closer look. 

How to Use Hyperbole Accurately

By now, it’s understood that the use of hyperbole is larger than life and entirely over the top which is why they can’t be taken literally. If you’re trying to incorporate the use of hyperboles in your work, you can try the following exercises. 

The very first step towards getting better at using hyperboles would be through referring to more examples from a variety of sources like poetry, prose, commercials, and even conversations. The reason is simple. The more you explore, the better you understand. 

Another exercise would be to practice writing descriptions that are imaginatively and dramatically exaggerated. These descriptions could be about your feelings, emotions, or any situation in general. 

By observing and implementing these practices consistently, you should be able to master hyperboles.

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