A photograph of a pile of textbooks on a desk next to a computer mouse

Source: My lab, jawcey, Flickr

A photograph of an old station wagon in a driveway

Source: Honda, linsulin, Flickr

A photograph of a horse with its head outside of a stall

Source: Horse being Nosey, sms467, Flickr

Have you ever told your parents that you had a “ton” of homework? Perhaps you have complained that your car was “a million years old.” Maybe you have even remarked that you were so hungry you could “eat a horse.”

If so, you were deliberately exaggerating, or using hyperbole. A hyperbole is an overstatement of an idea. It is a rhetorical device or figure of speech used to evoke strong feelings or create a strong impression. A hyperbole is an obvious and intentional exaggeration not intended to be taken literally.

A photograph of the Manning brother Peyton and Eli with a fan

Source: @ NCTA: On The Floor -- Peyton Manning, Eli Manning & friend, sdk, Flickr

A photograph of thermometer mercury heading above 100 degrees on the scale

Source: Hg, perfectsnap, Flickr

Photo of a half-eaten school lunch consisting of a burger, tater tots, and a chocolate chip cookie

Source: They Fed Us Garbage, VC Geist, Flickr

Have you ever commented that Eli and Peyton Manning are “not bad” football players? Maybe you don’t watch football, but you do pay attention to the weather. Maybe you have said it’s “a little warm” when the temperature was over 100 degrees, or maybe you have gone to a restaurant and said the food “left something to be desired” when it was actually terrible.

If so, you employed understatement. Understatement is the exact opposite of hyperbole. When writers use understatement, they deliberately say less than they mean. Hyperbole and understatement always carry a tone of irony and may be funny.

In this lesson, you will learn to recognize hyperbole and understatement and explain an author’s purpose for using each.