What is Hyperbole and How to Write One?

Besides explaining hyperbole in detail, this post covers how hyperboles can improve your writing, common mistakes to avoid while writing them, and how to write them in a step-by-step way. And all of this through several examples.

What is a hyperbole?

A hyperbole is a figure of speech that deliberately exaggerates a part of your statement to bring it under spotlight. Hyperboles are used mainly for two purposes:

1. Hyperbole is used to emphasize a point

Here are two examples, with each preceded by its direct, non-hyperbole version to bring out the contrast:

The school bag is heavy.

The school bag weighs a ton. [Hyperbole]

You take lot of time to iron the clothes.

You take years to iron the clothes. [Hyperbole]

(Note that the key part of the sentence that makes a hyperbole has been underlined.)

Do you see the contrast between a hyperbole and its regular version? The exaggeration in hyperbole brings spotlight – and draws attention – on weight of the bag and time taken to iron the clothes, which otherwise attracts only a fleeting glance in the direct version.

More resources on hyperbole:

Note that hyperbole is a figure of speech and shouldn’t be taken literally. So, the school bag doesn’t weigh a ton and the time taken to iron the clothes is not years. It’s a way of saying to make the message impactful.

So, when disappointed customers filed a suit against Red Bull, they weren’t disappointed with Red Bull’s slogan, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’. They knew that it’s figurative language and can’t be taken literally. They filed suit against the product’s claim that it can improve concentration and reaction speeds. Red Bull settled the case for $13 million.

2. Hyperbole is used to highlight the difference between two things

Two examples, with each preceded by its non-hyperbole version:

Today’s two-hour movies are so short compared to nearly four-hour movies of 80s.

Today’s two-hour movies seem TikTok videos compared to nearly four-hour movies of 80s. [Hyperbole]

Despite wars, pandemic, and human displacement, twenty-first century is peaceful compared to twentieth century.

Despite wars, pandemic, and human displacement, twenty-first century is heavenly compared to twentieth century. [Hyperbole]

The first example highlights the difference between the duration of movies of two different periods by comparing today’s movies with TikTok videos (exaggeration). The second example does the same by calling twenty-first century to be heavenly (exaggeration).

How to write (beginner to advanced) hyperboles?

You can write hyperboles in three different ways:

1. Beginner-level hyperboles

These hyperboles can be written with absolute words such as most, best, worst, none, never, all, always, everything, and so on. Absolute words almost always form hyperboles because they exaggerate the situation they’re describing. Such hyperboles are easy to write, but, like anything easy, they aren’t impressive. Examples:

He always calls a spade a spade.

He is never on time.

2. Intermediate-level hyperboles

You can write intermediate-level hyperboles by stretching the attribute you want to hyperbolize to ridiculous level. (Note that my comments that go with examples are in square brackets.) Examples:

This cake can feed the entire village. [A cake can ordinarily be eaten by 1-2 persons, but by stretching the number to an entire village, you create a hyperbole.]

The car cost me millions. [Most cars would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and only few would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We can create a hyperbole by stretching it to millions of dollars.]

3. Advanced-level hyperboles

You can write advanced-level hyperboles by replacing the stretched attribute we saw in intermediate-level hyperboles with an unlike thing. The more striking and imaginative your unlike thing is, the better your hyperbole is. (Other figures of speech such as similes and metaphors too follow the same principle of striking difference between the two unlike things to write one worth remembering.) Example:

This building is as old as Rocky Mountains.

We could’ve written the same hyperbole as:

This building is million-years old.

The former compares the building with an unlike thing and requires bit more thinking than stretching few decades (age of the building) to millions of years. Note that the fundamental of stretching to a ridiculous level holds here as well. It in fact holds for all hyperboles, even beginner-level. Just the way of presenting that ridiculous level has changed.

Dos and don’ts in writing hyperboles

Few dos and don’ts to keep in mind with regard to use of hyperboles:

1. Construct hyperboles that aren’t taken literally

Hyperbole shouldn’t be such that it is taken literally. Remember the Red Bull slogan we looked at a while back:

Red Bull gives you wings.

People won’t take it literally. But if Red Bull’s slogan was:

Red Bull adds zing to your steps.

This can be taken literally. Here are more examples (the first of the pair may be taken literally):

He hit the ball so hard that it landed on the terrace of the nearby building. [Can be taken literally]

He hit the ball so hard that it landed on moon. [Hyperbole]

I can take a bullet for him. [Can be taken literally]

I can set the city on fire for him. [Hyperbole]

I’ve so much to study for the exam. It’ll take months to finish. [Can be taken literally]

I’ve so much to study for the exam. It’ll take years to finish. [Hyperbole]

2. Avoid overused hyperboles

Avoid overused hyperboles such as:

I’m starving! I could eat a horse.

She is as slim as a toothpick.

You’re as slow as a snail.

She’s light as a feather.

3. Don’t use it to replace facts

Don’t use a hyperbole to replace a fact. So, this won’t be a good idea:

Alexander invaded India aeons ago. [Aeon means immeasurably long period of time]

Better would be:

Alexander invaded India in 326 BC.

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