How to Use Hyperbole in Writing (& What It Is)

Posted on Mar 20, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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Hyperbole is a technique used in writing or speech in which an exaggerated statement is made for effect rather than literal accuracy. Its one of the many ways that writers can express their intended meaning in a way which is entertaining and engaging to the reader. 

If you want to learn how to use hyperbole in your own writing, you’re in the right place. We’ll break down everything you need to know to use hyperbole the right way. 

If you’re ready to delve deeper into the world of hyperbole, read on to learn:

  1. What is hyperbole?
  2. How to pronounce hyperbole
  3. Why do authors use hyperbole?
  4. Hyperbole examples
  5. Is hyperbole used in poetry?
  6. Hyperbole in advertising 
  7. What is the opposite of hyperbole?
  8. Metaphor vs hyperbole
  9. Hyperbole writing exercises
  10. Are you ready to use hyperbole?

Let’s begin with the very basics. 

What is hyperbole?

Hyperbole is something written or said in a way that clearly would not be intended to be taken seriously. Instead, readers are expected to appreciate hyperbole is being used for comic effect, or to succinctly convey something the writer would have to clumsily express in literal language.

Hyperbole is an example of a literary device. Literary devices are techniques used to create a certain impact on readers, keeping them engaged and invested in a story due to the writer’s ability to effectively use them. 

How to pronounce hyperbole 

Hyperbole is pronounced as ‘high-perr-buh-lee’. It should have four syllables and the stress is usually placed on the second. 

If you find yourself saying ‘hyper-bowl’, you’re pronouncing hyperbole wrong!

Why do authors use hyperbole?

Authors use hyperbole to make a point in a non-literal way that is more engaging or amusing than doing so literally. 

For instance, consider these two ways of expressing the same thing: 

  1. He waited at the station for a period of time that was far longer than expected and in fact was so long it felt unnatural and was very noteworthy.
  2. He waited at the station for eternity. 

They’re essentially saying the same thing but the latter is far more interesting and succinct. 

Hyperbole can also be deployed humorously.

For instance, consider these two sentences:

  1. He liked to eat sandwiches so much that his consumption of them was excessive and noteworthy.
  2. He had never met a sandwich he hadn’t devoured.

The second isn’t literally true but is a funnier way of saying the same thing as the first.

Hyperbole examples 

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee writes:

“There was no hurry for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy, no money to buy it with, nothing to see…” as a way of describing the empty and slow pace of life in Maycomb County. 

Of course, this can’t possibly be literally true, but it conveys a sense of the place effectively. 

When Fitzgerald states “Her voice is full of money” in The Great Gatsby the reader is able to instantly understand the point he’s making.

Is hyperbole used in poetry?

Yes, hyperbole is used in poetry just as it is in fiction or nonfiction writing. 

When a poet uses hyperbole, it’s to make an exaggerated point similar to other types of writing. However, the use of hyperbole in poetry may be harder to notice due to poetry being composed almost entirely of non-literal language. 

To consider one example, in A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns, the line ‘And the rocks melt wi’ the sun is not conveying a scientific event. It’s an evocative and expressive way of conveying the intensity and duration of love between the poet and his subject.

Hyperbole in advertising 

Hyperbole is used in advertising visually, verbally, and in print advertising. 

The use of hyperbole in advertising requires a bit more care, however, due to the fact that laws exist to regulate advertising in a way that doesn’t apply to literature or poetry. 

For example, Red Bull makes the claim, both visually and with words, that drinking Red Bull “gives you wings”. This is clearly hyperbole intended to convey the feeling that comes with the energy and mental lift that accompanies a can of Red Bull. In spite of the blatant hyperbole, there’s an urban myth that Red Bull were sued due to this obvious example of hyperbole. In actual fact, the lawsuit related to health and performance claims, not anything to do with wings. 

What is the opposite of hyperbole?

The opposite, or antonym of hyperbole, is understatement.

Understatement itself can be used for deliberate effect by writers. 

For example, if a character lacking smarts is described as ‘not quite a Mensa member’ we know that the author is calling them stupid in a way that’s succinct and humorous.

Understatement is often used as part of dry humor – standing in contrast to the over the top nature of hyperbole. 

Metaphor vs hyperbole

At first it might seem like metaphor and hyperbole are very closely related, perhaps even the same thing. 

Hyperbole and metaphor can bs considered similar in a couple of ways. First, both techniques are used by writers to convey something in a non-literal way that engages and entertains the reader. Hyperbole and metaphor are both often used to be succinct and non-literal. 

However, the difference between metaphor and hyperbole stem from the fact that hyperbole is always a form of exaggeration while metaphor can be but isn’t always. 

For example, if you say ‘his house was so big it made Buckingham Palace into a dollhouse’, you are clearly exaggerating, but your meaning of a huge and grand dwelling comes across nonetheless.

However, if you say ‘love is a fine wine’, you are not exaggerating – you are simply making a poetic point about the sweetness of love and its ability to improve over time. 

Hyperbole writing exercises 

Here are five quick exercises to help you get comfortable with using hyperbole while writing: 

  1. Write about a physical characteristic of a person using hyperbole. 
  2. Use hyperbole to describe something you recently ate.
  3. Look back at your old writing. Jot down five of your sentences that were written in literal language. Rewrite them using what you now know about hyperbole. 
  4. Write down a list of three things – they could be places, people, or objects. Write about each one twice. The first time, use hyperbole. The second, use metaphor. 
  5. Open up a book you’ve been reading recently. Identify at least three sentences you think would be good candidates for hyperbole. Rewrite them accordingly. 

Are you ready to use hyperbole?

You should now have a better grasp of hyperbole, the ways it’s used, and its function in writing. 

Whenever you’re reading from now on, either fiction or nonfiction, keep an eye out for hyperbole. When you notice it, take a moment to stop and think about why the writer has chosen it and what they are saying. This will lead to a deeper understanding of how hyperbole is practically employed.

Like any literary technique, don’t overuse hyperbole! It will only annoy your reader and distract them from your work. Use it sparingly and with intentional effect. 

Otherwise, your writing will be the worst thing your readers have read in their life.

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