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What are hyperboles?

/hʌɪˈpəːbəli/

Firstly, hyperboles are statements that are used to express exaggeration in a situation. They may sound ridiculous when you interpret them directly, however, these expressions are not to be taken literally.

Imagine a situation when you are very hungry.  You didn’t have time for breakfast and you are going to a café to have lunch.  The order is taking a long time and there are some mouth-watering aromas in the area which is making your hunger worse.  To express how hungry you are to your friend who is with you, you can say something like:

‘I’m so hungry I can eat a horse.’

This does not mean you want to eat a horse, but given that it is such a large animal, this expression is a reflection of how large your appetite is.  Then, as you become impatient that your meal is taking much longer than usual to arrive, you can also add something such as:

‘I’m going to have to wait 10 years for this to get here.”

Of course, it will not take 10 years for the meal to arrive, but you are exaggerating how long the order is taking to reflect your frustration.

Hyperboles vs Similes: What's the difference?

Similes are a little different to hyperboles, but are still used to make comparisons to exaggerate what you want to say. They can be used with ‘as’ and an adjective, such as:

He is as blind as a bat  = He cannot see very well.

She is as tall as a house = She is very tall.

We can also create similes by using the word ‘like’. Here are some examples that are common in native speech:

This jacket fits like a glove = This jacket fits me perfectly, just like a glove can fit perfectly on your hand.

She can swim like a fish = She is a very good swimmer. She is so good, that you can compare her ability to a fish which swims all the time.

List of common hyperboles

Here is a list of common hyperboles.  Can you think of any situation when you could include them in your speaking, especially when talking about yourself or personal matters?

  • I had to run like the wind to get to work on time.

  • This bag weighs a ton – what did you put in it?

  • I died of embarrassment.

  • My parents are going to kill me when they find out.

  • I’ve heard this story a thousand times.

  • I’m drowning in paperwork at the moment.

  • These shoes cost me an arm and a leg.

  • I’ve told her a million times to clean her room.

  • It’s going to take us forever to get there.

  • It was so funny, I laughed my head off.

  • She really has a heart of gold.

  • I got in trouble with the teacher because I was the class clown.