Overstate vs exaggerate

panzerfaust0

Senior Member
mandarin
Hello. I am confused as about the usage/s of these two words, "overstate", vs "exaggerate". I know that we sometimes say, "the importance of this matter cannot be overstated". I know that we can't really say, "the importance of this matter cannot be exaggerated". It just wouldn't feel right. But I don't know WHY though.

Does "exaggerate" appear to you just like another version of "overstate"? Do you, as a native speaker, feel that there might be any difference/s? Thanks.
 
  • snoopBob

    Member
    English USA
    To me when someone overstates something they are making more statements than necessary. (Literally) It does not refer to size. When you exaggerate something you are making it bigger, or more grand
    As in the Latin 'err' to wander or stray as in erroneous exaggeration.
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    Overstate doesn't, as far as I know, have anything to do with the number of statements a person makes. I'm sorry, snoopBob, but that's not my understanding and it's not what the dictionary says it means, either. There is considerable overlap between the two words, but where they are differentiated, sometimes I think it just comes down to habit. That is, we use one in context A because that's just what we usually do and we use the other in context B because that's what we usually do.


    One difference is that overstatement always means more - saying more than is justified. You can't overstate something by making it sound less. Well, at least, I wouldn't. In contrast, exaggerate can be used to make something sound bigger than it is or smaller than it is.

    Also, and this really may be just me, overstate sounds less extreme than exaggerate. But I don't think you'll find that in the dictionary. :)
     

    jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Also, and this really may be just me, overstate sounds less extreme than exaggerate. But I don't think you'll find that in the dictionary. :)
    To me also. I would use "exaggerate" if I felt someone changed facts (intentionally or unintentionally). But I would use "overstate" if someone emphasized facts in an unwarranted manner while not actually changing the facts.
     

    panzerfaust0

    Senior Member
    mandarin
    Thanks to all who replied.

    Now, I will note down my own understanding after reading all these replies maybe you guys can tell me if I am on the right track.

    "Overstate" and "exaggerate" are both related to the word "emphasize". With "overstate", the difference is quantitative. "Overstate" is when someone is emphasizing, albeit a little too much. Whereas with "exaggerate", the difference is qualitative. The person in question is not only emphasizing, he/she is actually adding things aren't there to the facts at hand.

    Am I understanding it correctly?
     
    Last edited:

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    That looks really good, actually - you said it more eloquently than I did, and I'd say you're right. It's not necessarily a hard-and-fast rule, but I think that's a very good guideline.
     
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