Updated on 26 October 2015

Hyperbole (hi-PER-buh-lee) is language that is obviously exaggerated and not meant to be taken literally. Writers often use hyperbole for emphasis or to be funny.

Hyperbole: The Best Thing Ever

You can find hyperbole in plenty of English idioms: She’s asked a million questions. You could have knocked me over with a feather. He’s as quiet as a mouse. Now I’ve seen everything.

Where and When to Use Hyperbole

Hyperbole, like metaphors and similes, is a type of figurative language. In fact, metaphors and similes often incorporate hyperbole. When done right, hyperbole can make your writing livelier and more engaging for readers. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

Many people heard Jeremy shouting when the spider landed on him. The entire tri-state area could hear Jeremy shouting when the spider landed on him.

Both of these sentences mean that lots of people heard Jeremy. But the hyperbole in the second sentence places particular emphasis on Jeremy’s volume. Of course it’s impossible for one person’s shout to travel for hundreds of miles—the point is that Jeremy was really freaking out about that spider.

Beware the Hyperbolic “Literally”

Sometimes, people use the word “literally” in a figurative sense to amplify an already hyperbolic statement. But unless your teacher has asked you to go out and, say, harass a cranky grizzly bear, This homework is literally killing me! is just a hyperbolic way to say that your homework is harder or more abundant than you’d like. Although this usage is widespread and even accepted by some dictionaries, it’s generally a good idea to avoid it because many readers find it annoying. In the example above, you can even get rid of “literally” without sacrificing the hyperbole: This homework is killing me!

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