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Metaphor vs. Hyperbole: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on February 12, 2024
A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true but helps explain an idea, while hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally.

Key Differences

A metaphor is a literary device that equates two unlike things to highlight a similarity, without using "like" or "as." Hyperbole, on the other hand, involves deliberate exaggeration for emphasis or effect, not intended to be taken literally.
Metaphors create imagery and convey complex ideas through symbolic meanings, such as "time is a thief." Hyperbole magnifies characteristics or actions to an extreme level, like "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."
The use of metaphor is subtle and relies on conceptual thinking, as in "the world's a stage." Hyperbole is more about dramatic effect and overstatement, as seen in expressions like "I've told you a million times."
Metaphors often provide deeper, more layered meanings in a concise form, such as "her eyes were windows to her soul." Hyperboles are more straightforward, exaggerating a point for humor or intensity, for example, "his brain is the size of a pea."
The effectiveness of a metaphor lies in its ability to create a new perspective, as in "love is a battlefield." Hyperbole's effectiveness, however, lies in its ability to create a strong impression or an intense emotional response, such as "this bag weighs a ton."

Comparison Chart


To convey a similarity between two different things
To exaggerate for emphasis or effect


Equates objects/actions symbolically
Exaggerates characteristics/actions


Creates imagery or symbolic meaning
Provides dramatic or comedic effect

Literal Truth

Not meant to be taken literally, symbolic
Also not meant to be taken literally, exaggerative


"Life is a journey."
"I'm starving to death."

Metaphor and Hyperbole Definitions


A device to create vivid imagery in writing or speech.
The classroom was a zoo.


Exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally.
I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.


A rhetorical tool that provides deeper meaning to concepts.
Time is a thief.


An overstatement to create a dramatic or humorous effect.
This book weighs a ton.


A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).


Exaggeration used in writing or speech for emphasis.
I have a mountain of homework.


One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
"Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven" (Neal Gabler).


A rhetorical device used for emphasis or effect.
I've told you a million times.


The use of a word or phrase to refer to something other than its literal meaning, invoking an implicit similarity between the thing described and what is denoted by the word or phrase.


A way of speaking that intensifies the actual situation.
He's running faster than the wind.


A word or phrase used in such implied comparison.


A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton.


The use of an everyday object or concept to represent an underlying facet of the computer and thus aid users in performing tasks.
Desktop metaphor; wastebasket metaphor


Deliberate or unintentional overstatement, particularly extreme overstatement.


(intransitive) To use a metaphor.


(countable) An instance or example of such overstatement.


(transitive) To describe by means of a metaphor.


A hyperbola.


The transference of the relation between one set of objects to another set for the purpose of brief explanation; a compressed simile; e. g., the ship plows the sea.


A figure of speech in which the expression is an evident exaggeration of the meaning intended to be conveyed, or by which things are represented as much greater or less, better or worse, than they really are; a statement exaggerated fancifully, through excitement, or for effect.
Our common forms of compliment are almost all of them extravagant hyperboles.
Somebody has said of the boldest figure in rhetoric, the hyperbole, that it lies without deceiving.


A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity


Extravagant exaggeration


A figure of speech that symbolically represents something else.
All the world's a stage.


A direct comparison between two unrelated things.
Her voice is music to my ears.


An expression that describes one thing as being another.
He has a heart of stone.


Are metaphors always obvious?

No, some metaphors are subtle and require interpretation.

Is hyperbole always exaggerated?

Yes, hyperbole is by definition an exaggeration.

What makes a metaphor effective?

Its ability to create a vivid, imaginative connection between different things.

Can hyperbole be used for serious topics?

Yes, though typically it's used for emphasis or humor, it can highlight serious points.

Can metaphors be visual?

Yes, visual metaphors use images to convey a symbolic meaning.

Is hyperbole common in advertising?

Yes, it's often used in advertising for dramatic effect.

Can hyperbole be used in formal writing?

It can be, but should be used judiciously depending on the context.

Are metaphors used in everyday language?

Yes, metaphors are common in daily speech and writing.

Does hyperbole lose effectiveness with overuse?

Yes, overuse can make hyperbole seem less impactful or cliché.

Can metaphors change over time?

Yes, the meaning and relevance of metaphors can evolve.

Do metaphors have to make sense literally?

No, metaphors are not intended to be taken literally.

Is hyperbole a modern linguistic invention?

No, hyperbole has been used in language for centuries.

Are metaphors used in scientific writing?

Occasionally, to explain complex ideas in simpler terms.

How is hyperbole different from lying?

Hyperbole is intentional exaggeration for effect, not meant to deceive.

Can a metaphor become a cliché?

Yes, overused metaphors can become clichés.

Can hyperbole be negative?

Yes, it can exaggerate negative aspects for emphasis.

Do metaphors differ across cultures?

Yes, metaphors can vary and have different meanings in different cultures.

Are metaphors only used in language?

No, they can be used in visual arts, music, and other forms of expression.

How does hyperbole affect the tone of speech?

It can make the tone more dramatic, humorous, or intense.

Can hyperbole be subtle?

Typically, hyperbole is overt, but it can be subtle depending on the context.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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