Rhetorical Device: Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a rhetorical device used to exaggerate or emphasize a point through the use of overstatement. For example, the phrase “I almost died laughing” is an example of hyperbole.

Hyperbole is one of the most frequently used forms of figurative language in everyday speech, in comedy and in advertising. It is a useful tool for public speaking because it can help make a point more memorable, powerful or funny.

Whereas hyperbole works through overstatement, the related rhetorical devices meiosis and litotes operate through understatement.


In the following examples, the speakers use hyperbole to get laughs.
I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning. And throw thunder in jail.Muhammed Ali

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet. John F. Kennedy, "Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere" (29 April 1962)

WWS rhetorical device explainer card on hyperbole
The Chamber is celebrating an important milestone this week, your 70th anniversary. I remember the day you started. And like good wine, you've grown better, not older. Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the United States Chamber of Commerce" (26 April 1982)

In the following examples the hyperbole is used to inspire.
Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.Barack Obama, "Address on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma, Alabama March" (7 March 2015)

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "First Inaugural Address" (4 March 1933)

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.Martin Luther King, Jr., "I have a Dream" (28 August 1963)

Further reading

  • Wikipedia: Hyperbole Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Nordquist, Richard: "Hyperbole: Definition and Examples", ThoughtCo Visit