What is Hyperbole? Definition and Examples of Hyperboles in Writing

Hyperbole Definition: A hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration used in writing for effect.

What is Hyperbole?

What is the definition of hyperbole? A hyperbole is a type of figurative language. Therefore, a hyperbole is not meant to be taken literally. A hyperbole is an overstatement that exaggerates a particular condition for emphasis.

Example of Hyperbole

  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

This example of hyperbole exaggerates the condition of hunger to emphasize that the subject of this sentence is, in fact, very hungry.

This person has no intention of literally eating a horse but is trying to figuratively communicate his hunger using a hyperbole for effect (see literally vs. figuratively).

Modern Examples of Hyperbole

Hyberbole or Hyperbaly meaningHyperboles are commonly used in writing, but they are also frequently used in everyday language. Some common hyperbole examples include:

  • I’m dying of laughter.
    • The subject is not literally dying but is using hyperbole to figuratively communicate how hard he is laughing.
  • This package weighs a ton.
    • The package does not literally weigh a ton. This sentence uses hyperbole to exaggerate the weight of the very heavy package.
  • I haven’t seen Jamien in ages.
    • Ages have not literally past since the subject has seen Jamien. The subject is figuratively stating that he hasn’t seen Jamien in a very long time.

As you can see from these examples, the meaning of hyperbole is clear, and it is also clear that hyperbolic statements are not meant to be taken literally. They are hyperbolic by their very nature.

The Importance and Function of Hyperbole

Hyperbolie versus Hyperboly defineHyperboles are used in speech and writing for effect. The embellishment that a hyperbole creates brings particular attention to that thought or idea. Hyperboles are not meant to be taken literally, but stand out and create emphasis.

Hyperboles, however, should be used sparingly in writing and in speech. The reason being the intention is to bring attention to a particular concept. If hyperboles are overused, a “boy who cried wolf” situation occurs, and the hyperbole loses effect.

This is to say, if every sentence were a hyperbole, the audience would not take the writer or speaker seriously. They would be desensitized to all of the exaggerations.

However, when a hyperbole is used appropriately, its effect is purposeful and emphatic, causing the reader to pay attention to that particular point.

Examples of Hyperbole in Literature

What is an hyperbole literary definitionHyperbole in literature is used for emphasis or effect.

Hyperbole Example in Literature

Mark Twain wrote in “Old Times on the Mississippi”:

  • “I was helpless. I did not know what in the world to do. I was quaking from head to foot, and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far.”

Here, Twain utilizes hyperbole to explain a state of being. In this excerpt, the speaker felt incredibly helpless and wracked with nerve. The speaker’s eyes were not literally sticking out, but Twain uses hyperbole to communicate just how helpless was the speaker’s state.

Hyperbole Example in Literature

Paul Bunyan is a famous tale in American folklore. The tale itself is a hyperbole (from Bunyan’s extreme size to his magnificent blue ox). A specific example from this tale includes:

  • “Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue.”

Clearly, none of these things actually occurred and this statement is not to be taken literally. Here, hyperbole is used for comedic effect and to communicate that the winter was a particularly cold one.

Hyperbole Example in Literature

Josef Conrad’s Heart of Darkness utilizes a hyperbole to exaggerate time.

  • “I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity.”

“Ten days” is not literally “an eternity.” However, for this character, ten days felt like an incredibly long time, as indicated through the hyperbole.

Summary

What is a hyperbole? Hyperboles are used throughout literature, poetry, and even in speech.

In summary, what does hyperbole mean? Hyperboles are,

  • extreme exaggerations
  • used for emphasis/effect
  • figurative language
  • used sparingly with purpose
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