Hyperbole: What is Hyperbole in English? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on June 28, 2023

If you want to learn more about hyperbole, you're in the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know about what it is and how to use it in your writing.

In short:

  • Hyperbole is a literary device where you describe a person or situation's qualities using exaggeration.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Is Hyperbole?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hyperbole as "extravagant exaggeration." The Cambridge Dictionary's take is that hyperbole is:

"a way of speaking or writing that makes someone or something sound bigger, better, more, etc. than they are"

The word comes from the Greek verb hyperballein, meaning 'to exceed,' from the word hyper-, meaning 'beyond.'

So yes, hyperbole is a way of describing something by using exaggeration.

  • Statements that use them aren't meant to be taken literally—your reader should be aware that you're exaggerating.
  • You're not trying to deceive anyone, so make sure it's clear that you don't mean it literally.

Why use this literary device to describe something instead of just straight-up describing it?

There are several reasons.

  • Firstly, hyperbole can add a dramatic effect.
  • Secondly, they're a lot more creative and make your sentence more interesting as they conjure up an image in your reader's mind.

Take a look at these two examples of sentences describing something.

Which one is more fun to read: the description with or the one without?

The bride was beautiful and so was her dress. (description without hyperbole)

The bride was drop-dead gorgeous, wearing the most radiant dress I'd ever seen in my entire life. (description with hyperbole)

Literal vs Figurative Statements

To understand hyperbole, it's important to understand the difference between literal and figurative statements.

  • When someone says something literally, this means you should take them at their word.
  • You can read the individual words of the sentence and know that you can interpret them with their usual meaning.

Most sentences should be taken literally. But there are exceptions, of course, and one exception is when the writer has used a literary device that involves a metaphor.

  • To mean something figuratively is to compare it to something else, which it is not, so the words shouldn't be interpreted in their original sense. 

When you say that you almost died of laughter, this is meant in a figurative sense because you can't actually die of laughter.

  • Hyperboles always use figurative speech and should not be taken literally.

Ironically, and to make things even more confusing, the word 'literally' is now often used in hyperbole, like in the following examples:

I literally froze when I saw him.

She was literally at the end of her rope.

You have literally no money.

'Literally' is not to be taken literally in any of the above sentences but, rather, figuratively.

Hyperbole vs Metaphors

Metaphors are another literary device that uses figurative speech. So what's the difference?

As it so happens, hyperbole can be considered a form of metaphor, but not all metaphors are hyperbolic. Metaphors (and similes) are, in fact, tools to compare, whereas the former is a tool to describe.

Here's an example of a metaphor:

Life is a rollercoaster.

Here's an example of a simile:

Life is like a box of chocolates.

In both sentences, life is described by way of comparing it to something else. Life isn't a rollercoaster or a box of chocolates; this is a figurative way of saying that there are many ups and downs in life, and you never know what you'll get. It's not exactly an exaggeration, so it doesn't qualify as a hyperbole, but it's still figurative.

  • With that said, metaphors can also exaggerate.

Take the following sentence, for example:

I made enough food to feed an army.

Hyperbole Examples

Now we've covered what hyperbole is, let's take a look at some examples sentences, so you can see how to use it in your writing:

Can we eat yet? I’m starving

I hope we're nearly there; this journey's taking forever

Wake up, we've got a million things to do today.

Wow, you've got a ton of unread emails in your inbox.

I was so embarassed, I wanted to die.

You know I love you to the moon and back.

These puppies are the cutest animals I've ever seen in my entire life.

We couldn't go outside; it was a blizzard out there!

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on hyperbole and how to use it in your writing. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Hyperbole is a way to describe something using exaggeration.
  • It uses figurative speech and shouldn't be taken literally.
  • All hyperbole uses metaphor, but not all metaphors are hyperbole.

If you enjoyed this article, you'd love our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles just like this one. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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