Hyperboles— Definition and Quick Summary
- A hyperbole is a rhetorical and literary device in which an overstatement is purposely used to add emphasis or effect.
- Hyperboles are not only used in literature but in casual speech as well.
- An example of a hyperbole is:
- ○ I almost died of laughter.
Have you ever told someone that you’re so hungry you could eat a horse?
If so, congrats! You’ve successfully used a hyperbole.
Still not sure what a hyperbole is? Don’t worry. We’ll elaborate below.
What Are Hyperboles?
A hyperbole is a figure of speech in which an exaggerated statement is used to emphasize something or add an effect.
Hyperboles help your audience better understand your message. That’s why you’ll find them everywhere, from stories and poems to movies and songs. They’re even commonly used in casual speech as intensifying elements.
For example, if you’re carrying around a bookbag with plenty of books, you might tell your friend:
My bookbag weighs a ton.
That’s a hyperbole because your bookbag doesn’t literally weigh a ton. But saying this might help your friend understand that your bag is extremely heavy.
What Does “Hyperbolic” Mean?
Hyperbolic is an adjective used to mark language that is exaggerated.
- I couldn’t tell if the claims were true or hyperbolic.
- Are you being hyperbolic or did that really happen?
Why Are Hyperboles Used?
Many writers utilize hyperboles to create a desired effect and to accentuate a certain point. Hyperboles are effective at helping your audience visualize your writing. Take the following excerpt from “Living to Tell the Tale” by Gabriel García Márquez as an example:
At that time Bogotá was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.
A “nonstop rain that has been falling since the beginning of the 16th century” is a hyperbole that helps readers picture a city that experiences a lot of (seemingly nonstop) rain.
It’s important to remember that hyperboles must serve a purpose in your writing. Do not lie or mislead your audience. In order for a hyperbole to be effective, your readers should know that the exaggerated statement is deliberate. Additionally, hyperboles are most constructive when they’re used sparingly. Use them too often and they’ll lose their potency.
Examples of Hyperboles
Hyperboles in Literature
I was quaking from head to foot, and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far.
(“Old Times on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain)
I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity.
(“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad)
The skin on her face was as thin and drawn as tight as the skin of onion and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two picks.
(“Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor)
Hyperbole in Casual Speech
She’s drowning in work.
I’m so embarrassed I could die.
My parents are going to kill me when they found out I broke the TV.
It’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop from a mile away.
It’s a jungle out there.
We waited forever to board the plane.
- They’re overstatements or exaggerations of truth used deliberately for emphasis and effect.
- Use them sparingly and make sure not to mislead your audience.
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