Hyperbole (; adj. hyperbolic ) is the use of
exaggeration Exaggeration is the representation of something as more extreme or dramatic than it really is. Exaggeration may occur intentionally or unintentionally. Exaggeration can be a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke stron ...
as a
rhetorical device In rhetoric, a rhetorical device, persuasive device, or stylistic device is a technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a Meaning (linguistics), meaning with the goal of persuasion, persuading them towards consid ...
figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into ''scheme (linguistics), schemes,'' whi ...
. In
rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuad ...
, it is also sometimes known as auxesis (literally 'growth'). In
poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek '' poiesis'', "making"), also called verse, is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language − such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre The metre (Brit ...
and oratory, it emphasizes, evokes strong feelings, and creates strong impressions. As a figure of speech, it is usually not meant to be taken literally.


'Hyperbole' is derived from the grc, ''huperbolḗ'' by way of Latin. The word is composed from ''hupér'' 'above, beyond' and ''bállō'' 'throw'. Unlike most English words beginning with ''hyper-'', it is stressed on the second syllable. The first known use is in the 15th century. 'Hype' is a shortened version.


Hyperbole is often used for emphasis or effect. In casual speech, it functions as an
intensifier In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and st ...
: saying "the bag weighed a ton" simply means that the bag was extremely heavy. The rhetorical device may be used for serious or ironic or comic effects. Understanding hyperbole and its use in context can help understand the speaker's point. Hyperbole generally conveys feelings or emotions from the speaker, or from those who the speaker may talk about. It can be used in a form of humor, excitement, distress, and many other emotions, all depending on the
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to su ...
in which the speaker uses it.

In popular culture

Hyperbole is one of the most widely recognized and used forms of figurative language in everyday life. It is used heavily in advertising and entertainment. Advertisers use hyperbole to exaggerate the benefits of products to boost sales. Repetitive hyperbole is used in
public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) to the public in order to influence their perception ...
to increase the popularity of a person or product. It is also used in propaganda, giving it a bad reputation.

US case law

Rhetorical hyperbole is defined as "extravagant exaggeration employed for rhetorical effect" for First Amendment purposes. Greenbelt Cooperative Pub. Ass’n v. Bresler (1970), Letter Carriers v. Austin (1974) and Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. (1989) are notable cases. In Watts v. United States (1969) the defendant was absolved of federal anti-threat punishment for saying "the first person he would put in his scope is L.B.J."; the court found this to be "political hyperbole".

In literature

Hyperbole has been used throughout literature for many centuries. Heroic dramas, which are dramas with an emphasis on grandeur and excess, often make use of hyperbole to extend the effect and epic nature of the genre. Modern
tall tale A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some tall tales are exaggerations of actual events, for example wikt:fish story, fish stories ("the fish that got away") such as, "That fish was so big, why ...
s also make use of hyperbole to exaggerate the feats and characteristics of their protagonists. For example, the American tall tale about
Paul Bunyan Paul Bunyan is a giant lumberjack and folk hero in American folklore, American and Canadian folklore. His exploits revolve around the tall tales of his superhuman labors, and he is customarily accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox. The character ori ...
relies heavily on hyperbole to establish Bunyan's giant stature and abilities. For hyperbole to be effective it needs to be obvious, deliberate, and outlandish. Using hyperbolic speech as a character trait can denote an unreliable narrator. Emerson's ''Concord Hymn'' uses hyperbole in the lines "Here once the embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard round the world." In
Kurt Vonnegut Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer known for his Satire, satirical and darkly humorous novels. In a career spanning over 50 years, he published fourteen novels, three short-story collections, five pl ...
's ''Slaughterhouse-Five'', the protagonist emerges from his shelter to find total destruction, and makes the hyperbolic statement that "Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals." The hyperbole conveys how completely the city was ruined.


One of the most frequently used hyperboles in English is the word ''literally''. It became a controversial issue when people began to use ''literally'' to mean ''figuratively'' (the exact opposite). Many dictionaries now document the meaning as "to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling". Hence, ''literally'' has become one of the primary ways to exaggerate and hyperbolize a statement.

Common examples

* He was so angry, I thought he was going to kill somebody. * She had a thousand missed calls. * I was so embarrassed, I wanted to die. * She's as blind as a bat.

See also

Adynaton Adynaton (; plural adynata) is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally cl ...
, an impossible form of hyperbole *
Figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into ''scheme (linguistics), schemes,'' whi ...
Litotes In rhetoric, litotes (, or ), also known classically as ''antenantiosis'' or ''moderatour'', is a figures of speech, figure of speech and form of verbal irony in which understatement is used to emphasize a point by stating a negative to further a ...
meiosis Meiosis (; , since it is a reductional division) is a special type of cell division of germ cells in sexually-reproducing organisms that produces the gametes, such as sperm or egg cells. It involves two rounds of division that ultimately ...
, forms of deliberate
understatement Understatement is an expression of lesser strength than what the speaker or writer actually means or than what is normally expected. It is the opposite of embellishment or exaggeration, and is used for emphasis, irony, hedging, or humor. A part ...
Tautology (language) In literary criticism and rhetoric, a tautology is a statement that repeats an idea, using near-synonymous morphemes, words or phrases, effectively "saying the same thing twice". Tautology and pleonasm are not consistently differentiated in liter ...


External links

Examples of hyperbole in poetry

Definition and Examples of Hyperbole

What is Hyperbole?
* {{Authority control Rhetorical techniques