I've looked up a few definitions (Oxford, M-W, dictionary.com), but none make it explicit.

E.g., (one I made up)

"When professional tennis players were asked to rate the fitness of professional and amateur tennis players, most correctly guessed that professionals were fitter than amateurs. The did, however, tend to exaggerate this difference."

Does the use of the word "exaggerate" in the second sentence imply any of the following:

  1. That pro tennis players have intentionally misrepresented the difference?
  2. That pro tennis players were aware that they made an overstatement?
  3. That pro tennis players were somehow motivated to make an overstatement?

I'm considering this in terms of clarity. For example, I think using "overestimation" instead, implying that they've made a guess as opposed to a statement, would more obviously avoid a lot of the above.

  • 1
    I don' think there's any implication of any intent to misrepresent in the statement you quote, just that they're not objective or humble. Egotism & narcissism are sufficient to explain the exaggeration. They exaggerate the difference because they erroneously believe -- as humans are wont to do -- that all professional players are more physically fit & better players than all amateur players. They also feel a need to put themselves on a pedestal so that those who haven't yet done so don't have to go to the trouble of doing it. Love is blind, whether it's love of another or love of self.
    – user21497
    May 11, 2013 at 4:06
  • The quote is one I actually made up as an example! I can see how the ego/narcissism explanation can make sense here, but I'm trying to understand it in more general terms. My understanding of exaggerating has always been that it is an intentional and motivated act and, more specifically, that when one exaggerates one does so while having a sense of what a more accurate description would be. I'll edit the question to make this clearer.
    – kss
    May 11, 2013 at 4:37
  • 1
    No, I do not think there is any definition of exaggerate anywhere that ascribes (motives of intentional) misrepresentation. No, I do not see the example sentence imply any such misrepresentation. It merely means "that brings out the difference in sharper focus" or such.
    – Kris
    May 11, 2013 at 5:53

1 Answer 1


I do feel that "overestimate" and "exaggerate" carry different implications, and they are pretty much as you have characterized them. I believe, however, that Bill Franke's evaluation of what would be behind such exaggeration is often closer to the mark than the suggestion that "exaggerate" necessarily implies a willful misrepresentation. I think "exaggerate" means to inflate, expand, or overstate for some intentional purpose (whatever that purpose may be), but I believe the important element that concerns you is the intentionality, not the purpose or goal of the exaggeration.

To sum up, I do feel "exaggeration" is intentional, and "overestimation" is accidental (merely mistaken).

  • It might be good to note to explicitly note that the purpose of exaggeration need not involve any form of deceit. It may also be used for purposes such as humor in cases where it's not expected to be taken seriously.
    – supercat
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:18

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