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An A to Z of spoken grammar: E

15 October 2019

Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.


E is for … exaggeration


Exaggeration, or hyperbole, is such a frequent feature of conversational English that we hardly notice it’s taking place:

I’m dying for a coffee!


Common areas for exaggeration include numbers and amounts:

I’ve got millions of emails to answer, and mountains of paperwork.

And time and space:

I’ll be back in two seconds. (exaggerating how fast you’ll be.)

Of course you can park there. There’s acres of space!

Carter and McCarthy point out, by the way, that in time exaggerations we always seem to use ‘two’ or ‘five’: two minutes, five seconds etc. (‘Hyperbole in everyday conversation,’ Journal of Pragmatics 36: 149-184)


Another interesting thing to mention is the way we use adjectives and adverbs to intensify exaggerations that have become tired through over-use:

My boss is a total slave driver.

It was so hot in there that we were literally melting!

We lost again. An absolute massacre, I’m afraid.


To find out about teaching spoken grammar, visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.


(F is for ... frontal ellipsis: 18 October 2019)