Using and Identifying Hyperboles

Have you ever felt like your school bag weighs a ton? Or that the sweltering sun in Singapore could burn you to ashes? If you found any of those statements relatable, you would have understood two different hyperboles. Today, let’s delve into how we should be using and identifying hyperboles in Secondary School English!

Firstly, a tip to take note of— the word is pronounced hy-per-buh-ly instead of hy-per-boh- ly! So, what exactly is a hyperbole? If you noticed, the phrases I used at the beginning of this video were exaggerated statements. Making anyone carry a bag that literally weighs a ton should be illegal, and the sun could never burn us to ashes unless we’re vampires.

In a nutshell, a hyperbole refers to an exaggerated statement that is not meant to be understood on a literal level. It is used to add an element of creativity to a statement and make it easier for a reader to imagine a certain concept. For instance, let’s take a look at the previous hyperboles I mentioned:

  1. My school bag weighed a ton.
  2. The sweltering sun in Singapore could burn you to ashes.

A ton is an extremely heavy weight measurement, which would add emphasis to how heavy a school bag is. Being burned to ashes is also something that occurs under intense heat, which could thus emphasise how hot the weather in Singapore can be sometimes.

At the secondary level, it’s important for you to understand hyperboles so that you can incorporate your knowledge for two exam components: Continuous Writing and Narrative Comprehension. Let’s take a look at how to apply your knowledge to Continuous Writing first.

Using Hyperboles in Continuous Writing

When it comes to your Personal Recounts or Descriptive Essays in Continuous Writing, a hyperbole is a literary device that you can use to make your composition more creative. Whenever you want to convey certain emotions or ideas, you can consider exaggerating it with a hyperbole instead of using the word ‘very’.

Take a look at this simple sentence:

I waited for very long.

To improve on this simple sentence with a hyperbole, we could say this:

I waited for an eternity/I waited for an aeon.

Can you see how using a hyperbole conveys how long the writer waited in a more creative way? However, when writing a hyperbole, take note that you should exaggerate the correct aspect of an idea.

For instance, the following hyperbole would be inaccurate to convey the idea that someone waited for very long:

I waited for what felt like a 20km run.

In the above example, the writer needs to focus on time rather than distance. When creating a hyperbole, do ensure that you exaggerate your idea in a relevant manner.

You should also be careful not to make a hyperbole too specific to yourself. For instance, the following hyperbole based on the simple sentence we saw earlier would not be relatable to all readers:

I waited for the amount of time my father takes to get ready before leaving the house.

Although some people may relate to this, not everyone will! Do ensure that the hyperboles you write allow readers in general to understand them.

Now, let’s try to create hyperboles based on three different sentences. Take a look at these three sentences and come up with hyperboles of your own for each of them! Remember these two rules: the hyperbole should focus on the correct aspect that you want to highlight and be relatable.

For each example, I have listed a possible hyperbole you could use, but you should definitely unleash your creativity to think of other ways you can exaggerate each sentence.

  1. I was very hungry.
    Example: I was so hungry I could eat everything on the restaurant’s menu.
  2. I told you so many times not to take my things.
    Example: I told you an infinite number of times not to take my things.
  3. I was very embarrassed.
    Example: I was so embarrassed I wished the ground had swallowed me up.

I hope you manage to come up with some interesting hyperboles! Do take note that while using hyperboles can help make your writing more interesting – like all other literary devices – use them sparingly so that they would not lose their effectiveness.

Now, let’s see how we can apply our knowledge of hyperboles to Narrative Comprehension.

Understanding Hyperboles in Narrative Comprehension

In Narrative Comprehension, you may be asked Language Use for Impact questions, which require you to have a knowledge of literary devices and their purposes. This is so that you will be able to analyse how the writer has used language to convey a particular idea in the passage. For more information on this question type, you can check out this earlier blog post written by one of our teachers.

For now, let’s take a look at this excerpt from the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, and a Language Use for Impact question based on it:

There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

Q: How does the language used show that Maycomb County was a dull place? (2m)

To tackle this question, we should first identify the hyperboles used. Are you able to pick them out? The trick is to locate words or phrases that show the writer making exaggerated statements. In this case, this is shown by the writer using the following bolded phrases— nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and nothing to see:

There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

Q: How does the language used show that Maycomb County was a dull place? (2m)

Then, we can think about what exactly the hyperboles we have identified show. The statement does not literally mean that there was completely nothing in Maycomb County for people to visit or buy. Ask yourself, what quality about Maycomb County is the writer trying to exaggerate by using these hyperboles? Remember to keep it relevant to the question. The phrase ’no money to buy it with’ , although a hyperbole, shows the financial state of the county rather than how dull it is, so it is not relevant to the question and should not be included in the answer.

To string your ideas together, a possible answer would be:

There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

Q: How does the language used show that Maycomb County was a dull place? (2m)

Ans: The writer uses hyperboles, ‘nowhere to go’, ‘nothing to buy’ and ‘nothing to see’ [1m] to show that there are no interesting places or shops in Maycomb County [1m].

Take note of how to score the full 2 marks for this question type, you would not only need to identify the hyperboles used in the passage but to also explain the quality that is being emphasised in the context of the passage through the use of the literary device.

Also, avoid repeating the question keyword as your answer. For instance, if you merely repeat that the hyperboles show that Maycomb County was a dull place, then you would not be given the 1 mark for the second part. Instead, explain what you mean by dull, i.e. having no interesting places to visit or shops to buy from.

Apart from hyperboles, you should also revise other literary devices to ensure you’re well-equipped to answer the Language Use for Impact questions in Narrative Comprehension.

I hope that this video has helped increase your overall understanding when it comes to using and identifying hyperboles, both for writing as well as reading comprehension. Bye for now!

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Ms Atifa

In her time teaching, she has incorporated elements of drama into her classes to engage her lower primary students. She tries her best to get to know all of her students and is always keen to find out each of their interests and hobbies. She believes that each student has personalised needs, and aims to make lessons fun and helpful for all of her students.

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