hyperbole guide for students and teachers

What Is Hyperbole?

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Like many of the terms used for our literary devices, the origins of the word hyperbole lie in ancient Greek. Hyperbole is a compound word with various interpretations including an over-casting or a ‘ throwing beyond’. The sense here is that of over-reaching to convey an amplified meaning, that is, exaggeration.

In many ways, we can think of hyperbole as the art of exaggeration. While the sum total of the words used is not meant to be taken in the literal sense, hyperbole is used to grasp beyond the everyday to express an intensity that is larger than life.

When hyperbole is used, whether in speech or writing, the listener or reader is aware that the meaning is not intended literally.

We can find numerous examples of hyperbole in our everyday speech. For example:

●      “My mum’s going to kill me when she finds out

●      “He’s as tall as a house

●      “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse

●      “She’s as old as the hills

●      “I told her a million times

 As we can see from the examples above, it’s possible to use hyperbole in the form of other literary devices such as simile and metaphor. The important point is that the statements are not true in a literal sense and that they employ exaggeration to convey their point.

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WHEN AND HOW TO USE HYPERBOLE

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We use hyperbole widely in our everyday speech, as we can see in the examples above. But, hyperbole has also long been an important staple of literary prose, creative nonfiction, essays, songs, poetry, and dramatic writing too.

Given its non-literal nature, we don’t often find hyperbole used in technical writing where the main focus is on clear expression devoid of emotional content.

Hyperbole is used to bring emphasis, drama and/or humor to a sentence. In a sense, hyperbole defies logic and rationale. It is used when the writer feels the desire to move beyond the commonplace to convey larger than life emotions or feelings

 

HYPERBOLE IN LITERATURE

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HYPERBOLE IS FREQUENTLY USED AND ABUSED IN ADVERTISING

Hyperbole has long been a favorite of poets when expressing some powerful emotion or sentiment. It has been a particularly popular figure of speech used when professing love, as the last thing a lover wants is for their profession of love to appear commonplace and ordinary.

W.H. Auden’s poem As I Walked Out One Evening is an excellent example of how hyperbole can be used effectively to express overwhelming love:

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet,

And the river jumps over the mountain

And the salmon sing in the street,

I’ll love you till the ocean

Is folded and hung up to dry

And the seven stars go squawking

Like geese about the sky.

 

These lines form a series of grand and exaggerated declarations of love that increase in ludicrousness as the stanza progresses.

Despite the fact that the poet is laying the groundwork for a crushing disillusionment to follow, hyperbole serves the poem well here in describing the unbridled optimism that so often comes in the first flushes of newfound love.

As well as emphasizing drama and emotion, hyperbole is often used as a comedic device. Literature in English using hyperbole in this manner abounds, so it won’t be difficult to find some good examples to share with your students.

That said, let’s take a look at a few fun examples to get things rolling.

In his autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, Gabriel García Márquez writes with wry humor:

“At that time Bogota was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.”

Or, how about its use in folktales?

Hyperbole is the perfect vehicle to bring humor to yarns and tall tales. The far-fetched plotlines and exaggerated heroism of many fairy and folk tales make it the perfect genre to avail of the larger-than-life nature of hyperbole.

We can see this clearly in the following extract from S.E. Schlosser’s retelling of the folktale Babe the Blue Ox:

“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. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”

 

USING HYPERBOLE IN INDEPENDENT WORK

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Once students have developed a good grasp of how hyperbole works through the examination of different examples from literature and daily speech, it’d be worthwhile getting them to have a go at writing some examples of their own.

Not only will it help the students to internalise how this literary device works, but it will help tune them into when and how this device is used in various types of literature.

Not to mention, coming up with original hyperbole is lots of fun for students too.

 

The Best Hyperbole Activity in the World – Ever!

To get students to practice writing their own examples of hyperbole ask them to think about something that they feel strongly about. It doesn’t matter what emotion is conjured up, as long as it’s a strong one.

Tell the students to think about the emotion that is inspired in them. Is it happiness? Disgust? Desire? Awe?

Then, instruct students to write an imaginatively exaggerated description of it. This will naturally lead to hyperbolic descriptions of the chosen thing.

 

Hyperbole: Don’t Overdo It!

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HYPERBOLE AND LYING ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS, BE CLEAR ON WHAT THE DIFFERENCE IS.

As we can see, hyperbole is an effective literary device when used appropriately. It can bring intensity and humor to writing, but it is important that it’s used in the right context and with justification.

When teaching students about this device and how to use it, it is crucial that they avoid its overuse in their own writing.

The danger of hyperbolic writing is that, when it’s used indiscriminately, it can erode the meaning of words. Think of phrases such as I’m starving!, for example.

However, when used judiciously, hyperbole can bring considerable color and creativity to the language. Definitely a worthy tool to have in any writer’s toolbox.

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Useful videos to learn about Hyperbole

OTHER GREAT ARTICLES RELATED TO HYPERBOLE

hyperbole,literary device | a guide to onomatopoeia 2 | A complete guide to Onomatopoeia | literacyideas.com

A complete guide to Onomatopoeia

A Guide to Onomatopoeia in Literature WHAT IS ONOMATOPOEIA? A DEFINITION FOR STUDENTS Any of us old enough to remember – or familiar enough with the reruns – of the original Batman TV series will surely have an excellent understanding of exactly what onomatopoeia is. Let’s create a definition. Think back to the fight scenes…
hyperbole,literary device | FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE GUIDE | Figurative Language for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

Figurative Language for Students and Teachers

Complete guide to figurative language for students and teachers. WHAT IS FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE? A DEFINITION      We most often associate figurative language with poetry, but we find figurative language widely used in many other contexts too. We find it in use in everything from fiction and folk music to drama and our daily speech. The term…
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Literary Devices

Literary Devices for Teachers and Students  WHAT ARE LITERARY DEVICES? If words are the raw materials of a writer’s trade, literary devices are the tools the writer uses to craft those words into a meaningful and/or beautiful shape. There are hundreds of these devices at a writer’s disposal covering. They cover every aspect of the…
hyperbole,literary device | 1 elements of literature guide | Elements of Literature | literacyideas.com

Elements of Literature

  WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THE PHRASE ‘ELEMENTS OF LITERATURE? The phrase ‘elements of literature’ refers to the constituent parts of a work of literature in whatever form it takes: poetry, prose, or drama. Why are they important? It’s important students understand these common elements if they are to competently read or write a…

Content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and university English lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book the Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.