If you want to say that a movie is really good, you could call it "great" or "amazing" or many other similar adjectives. On the other hand, you could also say it's "literally the best movie ever."
Is it actually the best movie ever made? Well, probably not, but your conversation is more colorful and lively because of your exaggerated expression.
This kind of exaggeration is called "hyperbole," and it's used very frequently by English speakers. It can be used not only for emphasis but also to add humor and to simply make speech more expressive.
In this article, we will guide you through the effects of English hyperbole and the main ways to use it. We'll also give you some examples of the most common uses of hyperbole. Maybe you've even heard some of them yourself before.
What is hyperbole?
As mentioned above, hyperbole (which sounds like "hi-PER-boh-lee") is a way of emphasizing speech by using exaggeration.
For example, think about the phrase "You're killing me." It sounds like quite a strong statement! However, when used in casual conversation, it is not related to death or killing. In other words, it's not to be understood literally.
Instead, it's a figurative expression that means "I can't take it anymore," or to indicate that someone is doing too much of something for the speaker to tolerate. The listener will naturally understand that this is simply an exaggerated expression.
The same is true for the following examples.
Anna does not (and cannot!) actually type at the speed of light, and the speaker in the second example would not actually choose to die.
Let's look at another example. When you want to say, "I've heard it so many times," you can say exactly that. However, for a stronger effect, you can emphasize it with hyperbole.
Or, you can make it even more exaggerated.
The adjective form of hyperbole is "hyperbolic."
How to use hyperbole effectively
Amount of exaggeration
Hyperbole is intended to emphasize speech through exaggeration. However, it is only effective when the exaggeration is beyond what is naturally possible. If what you say is believable or can actually happen, it will not sound like hyperbole.
For example, look at the following examples:
It's possible that there are people who like a movie so much that they've watched it 20 times. Therefore, this is not an effective use of hyperbole.
This second example, however, is much less likely, which makes it a proper hyperbolic statement.
Also, it's important to consider the situations in which hyperbole is used. Exaggeration may be inappropriate at times when being accurate or serious is required.
This means casual conversations with friends are almost always a better time to use hyperbole than in important business meetings or when discussing serious matters.
So the key to effective hyperbole is the right amount of exaggeration in the right situations at the right time.
Commonly hyperbolic expressions
Let's move on to some of the most common patterns of hyperbole in English.
It's normal to use extreme expressions such as "never" and superlative adjectives such as "the best~," "the most~," etc.
never stop ~ing
the best in the world / the best ever
Extreme words such as "death" and "forever" are also common in hyperbole.
~ing to death
go on forever
Expressions that compare the topic to something else are also common.
eat like a bird/horse
the size of a pea
to the bone / to the core
Here, the speaker is exaggerating how wet they are. The rain has gone through their clothes and even their skin to reach the bones inside their body!
Even though the speaker is saying "literally," this is a figurative statement since they obviously are not dead. This way of using literally is not correct, but it is still quite common among native English speakers!
Basic expressions are OK for most conversations. However, in the right situations, it can be fun to “spice up” your language by using hyperbole.
Hyperbole allows you to express your thoughts more creatively and make a stronger impression on the listener. Just be careful to use it when the time and situation are appropriate.
This article was adapted from an original by Tamaki Saito.