hy·​per·​bo·​le hī-ˈpər-bə-(ˌ)lē How to pronounce hyperbole (audio)
: extravagant exaggeration (such as "mile-high ice-cream cones")
hyperbolist noun

Did you know?

In the 5th century B.C.E. there was a rabble-rousing Athenian politician named Hyperbolus. Since Hyperbolus is known to history as a demagogue, i.e. “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power,” one might be tempted to assume that his name played a role in the development of the modern English word hyperbole, but that's not the case. Although that noun does come to us from Greek (by way of Latin), it does so instead from the Greek verb hyperballein, meaning “to exceed,” which itself was formed from hyper-, meaning “beyond,” and ballein, “to throw.” Hyperbolus may have preferred to take the undeserved credit, of course.

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How is hyperbole pronounced—and why?

This word doesn't behave the way we expect a word that's spelled this way to behave. It begins with the prefix hyper-, which we know in words like hyperlink (and in the adjective hyper itself), but instead of having the accent, or emphasis, on the first syllable—HYE-per-link—it has the accent on the second syllable: hye-PER-buh-lee. And then there's that bole. It should sound just like the word bowl, right? Nope. Instead it's two syllables: \buh-lee\ .

The word comes to English directly from Latin, but the Latin word is from a Greek word that has one crucial visual difference. It has a line, called a macron, over the final e: hyperbolē. The macron tells us that the vowel is pronounced like \ee\ .

The fact that hyperbole is pronounced in a way counter to the usual workings of English pronunciation gives a hint as to the word's history in the language. Although these days you might encounter hyperbole in a magazine at the doctor's office, the word's first use was technical. It's from the field of rhetoric, which makes it at home with terms like metaphor, trope, and litotes. And speaking of litotes (pronounced \LYE-tuh-teez\ ), that term is an approximate antonym of hyperbole. It refers to understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negation of the contrary, as in "not a bad idea" or "not unpleasant."

Examples of hyperbole in a Sentence

Four decades later we're all blabbermouths, adrift on a sea of hyperbole, shouting to be heard. Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated, 1 Apr. 2002
… balanced on the razor edge of anachronism, creating a rich stew of accepted and invented history, anecdote, myth and hyperbole. T. Coraghessan Boyle, New York Times Book Review, 18 May 1997
Even if we discount the hyperbole evident in such accounts, they were far from inventions. Lawrence W. Levine, The Unpredictable Past, 1993
“enough food to feed a whole army” is a common example of hyperbole
Recent Examples on the Web Looking beyond the rhetoric Still, Trump allies view the shift in public sentiment on immigration as a key political opportunity – one the former president presses at every opportunity, with a flourish of fear-mongering, hyperbole and outright lies. Cnn.com Wire Service, The Mercury News, 19 May 2024 President Biden delivered a political speech filled with much hyperbole, just as all other politicians do as opposed to the congenital lying by his Republican opponent. Reader Commentary, Baltimore Sun, 12 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for hyperbole 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hyperbole.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin, from Greek hyperbolē excess, hyperbole, hyperbola, from hyperballein to exceed, from hyper- + ballein to throw — more at devil

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of hyperbole was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near hyperbole

Cite this Entry

“Hyperbole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole. Accessed 3 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


hy·​per·​bo·​le hī-ˈpər-bə-(ˌ)lē How to pronounce hyperbole (audio)
: extravagant exaggeration used to emphasize a point
"mile-high ice cream cones" is an example of hyperbole

More from Merriam-Webster on hyperbole

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