Literary Terms


Hyperbole and Understatement

Hyperbole and understatement are related figurative language techniques.


With hyperbole, the speaker exaggerates for effect.

This example of hyperbole comes from a Paul Bunyon "tall tale":

Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.



With understatement, the speaker understates or uses statements that are too weak to accurately describe reality.

Here are some examples of understatement in literature:

  • In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says, "I have to have this operation. It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain."
  • In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio is stabbed by Tybalt, Mercutio says, "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, 'tis enough. Where is my page? Go, villain, fetch a surgeon."


Instructions for the Quiz

Which figurative language technique is being used?