Examples of Hyperbole in Literature | Common Examples & Functions

What is Hyperbole?

Hyperbole (pronounced hī-pər-bə-lē) is a literary device used for emphasis or exaggeration. It involves making a situation seem much bigger, smaller, better, or worse than it actually is. Hyperboles aren’t meant to be taken literally – they are used to create strong impressions and dramatic effects.

Some key features of hyperboles:

  • Obvious exaggeration
  • Not intended to be taken literally
  • Used for emphasis, humor, and effect

Common Examples of Hyperbole

Here are some short, common hyperboles, which are used in everyday speech and writing:

  • “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
  • “She’s as slow as a snail.”
  • “I’ve told you a million times!”
  • “I waited for ages.”
  • “He has tons of money.”
  • “This bag weighs a ton.”

Advertisers also rely heavily on hyperbole to sell products and services:

  • “Our makeup will make you look decades younger.”
  • “The best burger in the world.”
  • “Lowest prices of the century.”
  • “Our mattresses will change your life.”

Six Examples of Hyperbole from Literature


“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the description of the knight uses hyperbole to exaggerate his military accomplishments:

“He had done nobly in his sovereign’s war And ridden into battle, no man more, As well in Christendom as heathenesse, And ever honoured for his worthiness.”

Here, the hyperbolic language has been used to elevate the Knight to an exaggerated level of nobility and honor. The lines elevate the knight’s valor by inflated claims of him fighting in battles “more” than any other man.

Chaucer’s exaggeration of his battlefield exploits paints a hyperbolic picture of his might and fearlessness. Moreover, the phrase “ridden into battle, no man more” propounds that no other man could match the Knight’s martial valor and courage.

Finally, “ever honoured for his worthiness” indicates that all people in every land recognized and praised his virtue – a sweeping statement almost certainly not intended to be taken literally. Chaucer by using the hyperbolic language establishes the Knight as an embodiment of the chivalric ideal.


“Ode to a nightingale” by john keats

John Keats’s poem Ode to a Nightingale contains grand hyperboles to describe the transportive nature of the nightingale’s song:

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown”

By exaggerating that “generations” have heard the same nightingale across ages, Keats dramatizes the feeling of timeless joy. The hyperbolic immortality of the nightingale and continuity of its melody inflates the romantic rapture to mythic proportions.


“Macbeth” by william Shakespeare

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth speaks to spirits asking them to take away all her feminine tenderness and fill her with only cruelty:

“Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty.”

In this soliloquy, lady Macbeth uses extreme hyperbole emphasizing her desire to become utterly cold-blooded and remorseless. She calls on the “spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts” to “unsex” her. It is a hyperbolic plea that indicates her willingness to abandon her identity as a woman to gain the merciless courage.

The verbs “unsex” and “fill” demonstrate hyperbolic extremes. Her exaggerated desire to substitute nurturing femininity with unfettered viciousness emphasis how severely she believes she must transgress her socially dictated gender role to pursue power.


“Hard Times” by Charles Dickens

The opening line of Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times uses hyperbole to describe the overly utilitarian education system:

“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.”

Here, the hyperbolic language emphasizes the strong belief of the writer in teaching only objective facts rather than fanciful imagination. The repetition of capitalized word “Facts” dramatizes his view. He thinks that “Facts” should be the supreme guiding principle of education.

He further states hyperbolically that children should learn “nothing” except Facts. It indicates an exaggerated and imbalanced philosophy, which means that no other intellectual and creative nourishment has merit at all.


In The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo depicts the grand cathedral itself as a exaggerated, larger-than-life character:

“Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of ages. Often the art of architecture is transformed while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art.”

The sweeping hyperbole equating Notre-Dame to “great mountains” emphasizes its magnificence as well as its evolution over multiple eras. The writer employs the hyperbole to emphasize how monumental creative works evolve gradually over long periods of time.

He equates massive buildings with “great mountains” to stress that architectural wonders share the ponderous permanence of natural edifices. This exaggerated parallel between manmade and natural structures intensifies Ruskin’s central belief regarding the necessarily gradual progress of human creative vision.

The writer portray the buildings as “the work of ages” to present a pompous overstatement about construction timelines with “ages”.


“Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

The opening of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice uses hyperbolic irony regarding a mother’s exaggerated wish to marry off her daughters:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Austen uses hyperbolic tone to establish crucial thematic elements regarding 19th century British marriage customs and their financial implications.

She uses exaggerated term “universally acknowledged truth” to describe the notion that single wealthy men must want wives.

The hyperbolic diction emphasize the immense societal pressure facing affluent bachelors to marry. Moreover, she describes about men of means as always “in want of a wife”.

This hyperbole stresses the institution of marriage as a desired symbol of prestige as much as a practical partnership. Austen humorously reveals that a wife acts as a marker of a gentleman’s standing.

She by considering marriage as necessary for reputable single men establishes courtship as a central topic ripe for deeper examination, debate and drama over the novel’s course.

Examples of Hyperbole in Literature
.Examples of Hyperbole in Literature

Read also: Homograph VS Homophone

Functions of Hyperbole

Hyperboles serve several key functions:

I- Emphasis

They place extra emphasis on sentiments to increase the intensity of expressions. By deliberately magnifying or minimizing aspects, they make impressions much stronger. For example, “I’ve done this a million times” stresses that the task is very familiar.

II- Evoking Emotions

Exaggeration evokes emotions from readers more effectively. Overstated impressions of love, hate, pain, pride etc. connect instantly at a emotional level. Lines from Romeo and Juliet would fall flat without bold romantic hyperboles.

III- Humor

Obvious exaggeration is used extensively in humor and satire. By poking fun at pretentiousness and absurdities using hyperbolic wit, writers elicit amusement. For example, mockery of society’s excessive marriage-mindedness in Pride and Prejudice.

IV- Providing Texture

The use of vivid extremes creates rhetorical texture through liveliness and richness. Outlandish exaggerations make expressions more colorful and impactful. Without such flourishes, writing would be bland.

V- Surprise and Emphasis

Startling exaggerations also surprise readers while keeping their interest alive. By defeating expectations through radical imagery, they also imprint ideas firmly. Hugo’s grand personification of Notre-Dame creates wonder through inflated depiction.

Overall, hyperbole remains one of the most widely used literary devices due to its dramatic emotional appeal and ability to entertain as well as enlighten. Master wordsmiths amplify its impact by using it judiciously yet powerfully.

Related Terms

I- Understatement

Understatement refers to making something seem less significant than it actually is. For example, “I had a bit of trouble” when referring to a major problem. Understating is the opposite of exaggerating, and writers often use contrasting hyperboles and understatements together for balance.

II- Litotes

Litotes are a form of understatement involving expressing an affirmative point by negating its opposite. For example, saying “she’s not a bad singer” to mean someone is an excellent singer. This doubles the effect of understatement with subtlety. Litotes are the opposite of hyperboles in their self-effacing spirit rather than ostentatious exaggeration.


In summary, hyperbole, understatement and litotes are contrasting literary devices, but all three serve to provide rhetorical strength, emotion and added perspectives. Master wordsmiths learn to alternate between extremes and subtlety for optimal impact.

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