Lesson Plan - Get It!
Hyperbole: Exaggerating for Effect
Welcome to the fourth of the Related Lessons in the Introduction to Figurative Language series (right-hand sidebar).
Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration used to emphasize a point. It is used to add interest and humor to writing and even everyday speech. It is a literary device that we use often, and we should make a point of using hyperbole in our writing to help capture and hold our reader's attention.
Here is an example of how hyperbole may be used in everyday speech:
- Let's say you see a friend you haven't seen in a while. You may say something like, “Ages have passed since I last saw you." You may not have seen the friend for a few months, but the use of the word “ages” exaggerates this statement to add emphasis to the time since you last saw that person. Therefore, a hyperbole is an unreal exaggeration to emphasize the real situation.
It is important not to confuse hyperbole with simile and metaphor. Hyperbole does make a comparison, but unlike simile and metaphor, hyperbole has a humorous effect created by the intentional exaggeration.
Let's look at a few more examples so we can see the exaggeration in action:
Example #1: I was so embarrassed I could die!
- As far as I know, it's probably not possible to die from embarrassment. However, in this statement the person speaking must have done something so embarrassing that he or she feels that this statement is valid. The emphasis is on the embarrassing situation as well as how the speaker feels.
Example #2: The line for the ride was ten miles long!
- No one enjoys waiting in line, but could you imagine waiting in a line that was actually ten miles long? The speaker is clearly exaggerating about exactly how long the line actually was, but we can gather from the statement that the line was extremely long. This exaggeration adds some wow factor, especially if the speaker waited in the line and made it to the ride.
Adding Interest and Humor to Your Writing Using Hyberpole
Hyperbole is a form of figurative language, and the primary purpose of figurative language is to add a sense of personal style, creativity, and interest to your writing. Hyperbole can make your writing more colorful, and even add a bit of humor when appropriate.
Let's look at some sentences with and without hyperbole so we can gain an understanding of what hyperbole can do for your writing.
Example #1: These are the worst pancakes I have ever eaten.
- This is not hyperbole. This sentence is bland and straight to the point. Let's think of how we can use hyperbole to really get the point across that these pancakes are awful.
- I've eaten playdoh pancakes that put these to shame.
- These pancakes taste like cardboard.
- I'd sooner eat a scoop of garbage than finish these pancakes.
All of these examples imply that the pancakes are the worst, but in a more creative and interesting way.
Example #2: I like my teacher a lot.
- This is not hyperbole. It is a realistic statement.
- My teacher is the most awesome teacher in the whole world.
- My teacher should win the National Teacher of the Year award for awesomeness.
- My teacher stole my heart and my brain!
These statement tell that the student really likes his or her teacher in unique ways.
Example #3: It's taking you a long time to get ready.
- Again, not a hyperbole, just a straight-forward sentence.
- It's taking you a million years to get ready.
- Will you be ready in this millennium?
- Eternity will come and go before you are ready.
These hyperboles all reveal that a person is taking a very long time to get ready.
Example #1: I laughed so hard I was rolling on the floor!
- One of the real-world applications of hyperbole, aside from poetry and creative writing, is comedy. Many comedians, sitcom writers, and comedic movie writers use hyperbole as a main source of humor. I'm sure you've heard jokes like these:
- My dog is so scruffy, we have to pay the fleas to live on him.
- My sister uses so much makeup, my Mom doesn’t know her when she takes it off.
- Their house is so big, I needed a map to find the bathroom.
But be careful — there is a fine line between being funny and being downright mean. Use hyperbole as jokes only if you are sure that no feelings will be hurt.
Here's a short video that points out hyperboles and their meaning in a few popular movie clips and songs. Enjoy! Hyperboles:
If you'd like to see more, here is another short clip of Hyperboles in Disney Movies:
You and your teacher can also seek to identify hyperbole in books you are reading or in American folklore, such as the story of Paul Bunyan, Davey Crockett, and John Henry. Discuss how these stories are enhanced by hyperbole and why you think hyperbole was so popular in folklore.