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 Last fall, Apple introduced us to the Dynamic Island with all of the usual hyperbole. Emma Roth, The Verge, 13 Sep. 2023 And what hypercar reveal would be complete without a lot of, well, hyperbole? Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, 30 Aug. 2023 Those blowout numbers elicited heights of hyperbole on Wall Street. Shawn Tully, Fortune, 24 Aug. 2023 This isn’t hyperbole; a local news station in Indianapolis investigated front blind spots and found the Escalade’s to be the most egregious at 10 feet, two inches, with the driver sitting in a natural, relaxed position. Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, 9 Aug. 2023 Indeed, assuming a prosecutor could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump hadn’t actually convinced himself that the election was stolen from him (good luck with that), hyperbole and even worse are protected political speech. The Editors, National Review, 2 Aug. 2023 Beyond the hyperbole common when neuroscience crosses over into self-help is the popularization of theories that have already been disproved. Kristen Martin, Washington Post, 2 Aug. 2023 But the hyperbole ramped up on both sides coming out of COVID. Emily Goodykoontz, Anchorage Daily News, 30 July 2023 McCarthy certainly did a good job last season and was a big reason Michigan made the Playoff, but that seems like a lot of unnecessary hyperbole. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, 7 Aug. 2023 See More

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 29 Sep. 2023.

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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