Difference Between Hyperbole and Idiom

Main Difference – Hyperbole vs Idiom

Hyperbole and Idioms are two devices whose figurative meanings are important than their literal meaning. Idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression whose figurative meaning different from its literal meaning. Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration in a literary work. It is possible for an idiom to be composed of a hyperbole, but this doesn’t mean that all idioms are hyperbole. A phrase has to have an established meaning to be considered as an idiom. This is the main difference between hyperbole and idiom.

What is an Idiom

An idiom is a fixed expression that has a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning. This figurative meaning is not at all related to the individual meaning of its words. This is because the phrase has an established meaning in the usage. For instance, look at the expression ‘kick the bucket’, this does not really refer to kicking a bucket but refers to the death of someone.

The meaning of an idiom is established with constant usage, and if you are reading or hearing an idiom for the first time, it may be difficult to understand its meaning. Idioms prove to be a challenge when we are learning a new language.

Idioms are a special feature of a language, and they add color to the language. Different cultures and countries have different idioms. They cannot be literally (word to word) translated into another language.

Here are some examples of idioms:

Give someone the cold shoulder – Ignore someone

Play by ear – improvise

Put foot in mouth – to say or do something embarrassing

A storm in a teacup – great excitement about a trivial matter

Spill the beans – to reveal a secret unintentionally

Read between the lines – Find the hidden meaning

When we talk about idioms in literature, we cannot forget William Shakespeare; he was the creator of many idioms and phrases we use today. Some examples include

All that glitters is not gold, Send him packing, As dead as a doornail, A fool’s paradise, Green-eyed monster, and Star-crossed lovers.Difference Between Hyperbole and Idiom

What is Hyperbole

Hyperbole is the use of deliberate and obvious exaggeration. It is a common figure of speech used in many literary works. Hyperbole is used to add emphasis, evoke strong emotions and create strong impressions. However, hyperbolic statements are not meant to be taken literally since hyperbole is mainly used to add effects.

Given below are some examples of hyperbole from literature.

“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you

Till China and Africa meet,

And the river jumps over the mountain

And the salmon sing in the street,” – W.H Auden’s poem “As I Walked One Evening”

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No. This my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.” – Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

“A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. 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.”

 – Harper Lee “To Kill A Mockingbird”

It is important to note that an idiom can contain a hyperbole. For example, let’s look at the idiom cost an arm and a leg. This means that something was very expensive. This idiom also functions as a hyperbole since it exaggerates the value of something. But as soon as your audience hears this phrase, they know what you are talking about. This is because the figurative meaning of the phrase has been established over the years.Main Difference - Hyperbole vs Idiom

Difference Between Hyperbole and Idiom


Hyperbole is the use of deliberate and obvious exaggeration.

Idiom is a fixed expression that has a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning.


Hyperbole can be created by anyone.

Idiom’s figurative meaning has to become established through usage and passage of time.


Hyperbole can be used in an idiom.

Idiom can contain a hyperbole.Difference Between Hyperbole and Idiom - infographic

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“What really Happened by Jan Tik (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

“Black Sheep” By Jesus Solana from Madrid, Spain – Black sheep. la Oveja negra. Tambien te sientes diferente?Uploaded by Petronas, (CC BY 2.0), Commons Wikimedia 

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