Metaphor, hyperbole, and irony: uses in isolation and in combination in written discourse

Christian Burgers*, Kiki Y. Renardel de Lavalette, Gerard J. Steen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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While classical theories on rhetoric cluster figurative devices like metaphor, hyperbole, and irony under the encompassing category of tropes, current theories and research typically focus on one of the tropes in isolation. To determine how these different tropes are used in combinations, we conducted a large-scale corpus analysis of Dutch printed news discourse (54,851 words). For metaphor and hyperbole, we find that typical combinations are found in nouns and adjectives, showing that such combinations differ from the use of either trope in isolation. For hyperbole and irony, we find a relation between the two tropes in that ironic clauses contain more hyperbole than non-ironic clauses. In contrast, for metaphor and irony, we find no empirical evidence that the use of metaphors differs between ironic and non-ironic clauses. Analysis of clauses containing the three tropes of metaphor, hyperbole and irony shows that these may not always reflect novel and creative word use. Instead, various cases seem to contain conventional uses of metaphor and hyperbole.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-83
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue numberApril
Early online date22 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Figurative language
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Journalism
  • Metaphor
  • Public discourse


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