What is an overgeneralization

Overgeneralize Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

over·​gen·​er·​al·​ize ˌō-vər-ˈje-nə-rə-ˌlīz 


: to generalize excessively: such as


intransitive: to make excessively vague or general statements about something or someone

Of course, I am guilty here of grossly overgeneralizing, of caricaturing.—Peter Oliver


transitive + intransitive: to generalize to the point of inaccuracy : to extrapolate a general theory, rule, etc. from too few facts or particulars

overgeneralizes from the results of a limited study

Since the needs of a low vision person and of a blind person can be very different, it is important not to overgeneralize the nature of visual impairment.—Roberto Manduchi and James Coughlan


intransitive: to apply a rule of language too broadly

At a certain stage of language growth, children characteristically overgeneralize: They say sleeped instead of slept, brang (on the analogy of sang) instead of brought, and so forth.—Noam Chomsky





plural overgeneralizations

… indulge in overgeneralization from fuzzy facts, or when facts are missing. —Hy Ruchlis

… stereotypical overgeneralizations about the sexes … —Nadine Taub and Elizabeth M. Schneider

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web What Woody Woodpecker Can Teach Us About Football Don’t overgeneralize about 2.5 billion people. —Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 22 Oct. 2011

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'overgeneralize. ' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

1851, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler

The first known use of overgeneralize was in 1851

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“Overgeneralize.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overgeneralize. Accessed 10 Mar. 2023.

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Merriam-Webster unabridged

Overgeneralization Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.

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[ oh-ver-jen-er-uh-luh-zey-shuhn ]

/ ˌoʊ vərˌdʒɛn ər ə ləˈzeɪ ʃən /

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the act or process of overgeneralizing.

the result of overgeneralizing.

Linguistics. (in language acquisition) the process of extending the application of a rule to items that are excluded from it in the language norm, as when a child uses the regular past tense verb ending -ed of forms like I walked to produce forms like *I goed or *I rided.



There's an ocean of difference between the way people speak English in the US vs. the UK. Are your language skills up to the task of telling the difference? Let's find out!

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True or false? British English and American English are only different when it comes to slang words.

Origin of overgeneralization

First recorded in 1945–50; over- + generalization

Words nearby overgeneralization

overfond, overfull, overfunding, overgarment, overgear, overgeneralization, overgeneralize, overgenerous, overgild, overglaze, overgraze

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does 

overgeneralization mean?

Overgeneralization is the act of drawing conclusions that are too broad because they exceed what could be logically concluded from the available information. The word can also be used to refer to an instance when such an overly broad conclusion has been made.

Overgeneralization is frequently used in everyday speech, but it can also be used in logic, linguistics, psychology, or other fields of research to mean something a little bit more specific relating to the particular field. Generalization is similar, but it is typically used when drawing such a conclusion is considered appropriately practical and not overly broad.

Example: Unfortunately, there is a lot of overgeneralization in the report, which claims that all hospitals lack evacuation plans, when in fact only a small number of hospitals were studied.

Where does

overgeneralization come from?

Overgeneralization is a somewhat recent addition to English, but its main root is much older. General is first recorded around 1200 and derives from the Latin generālis, meaning “generic” or “relating to a whole class.” The prefix over- adds the sense of “over the limit” or “too much.”

Overgeneralization is commonly used as a noun referring to a situation when someone tries to apply a conclusion too broadly—like taking one difficult science class and saying “all science classes are super hard.” In logic and rhetoric, overgeneralization is used as another name for the hasty generalization fallacy, which involves making a claim that isn’t supported by enough evidence.

Overgeneralization can also be used more narrowly. In linguistics, overgeneralization is used as a name for a specific stage of language acquisition in which children apply a grammatical rule (like forming past tense verbs by adding -ed) too widely (resulting in nonwords like eated). In psychology, overgeneralization describes a situation in which a person takes just one or just a few incidents and presumes the world works a certain way based on those few incidents.

All of these different academic senses share the same general idea with the common meaning of overgeneralization: “not enough information; too broad a conclusion.”

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms of overgeneralization?

  • overgeneralize (verb)
  • overgeneralized (adjective)

What are some words that share a root or word element with overgeneralization?

  • general
  • generic
  • genus
  • genre

What are some words that often get used in discussing overgeneralization?

  • conclusion
  • fallacy
  • error

How is 

overgeneralization used in real life?

Overgeneralization is very common, and we like to call it out when we read it or hear it in news reports, social media posts, and everyday conversation.

Common patterns of distorted thinking:
All or nothing thinking- things are all good or all bad with no in between. (black & white thinking)
Overgeneralization- One rejection from an agent becomes: I will never get an agent.
(more to come)#writing community#mentalhealth

— MelisaRHightower (@melisawritesTSP) November 22, 2019

My son decided to make cookies for his teacher tonight. He declared they had to be extra chocolatey as “all teachers love chocolate” is he right or is his statement a gross overgeneralisation? #chocolate #teachers #edutwitter

— Sarah’s bookcase (@BookcaseSarah) November 14, 2019

Can we please stop drawing conclusions about the "primate brain" in papers that only ever test one species? Completely unnecessary overgeneralization in 99. 9% of cases.

— Tim Kietzmann (@TimKietzmann) April 30, 2019



Try using


Which of the following sentences uses overgeneralization correctly?

A. It’s an overgeneralization to eat that many carbs.
B. Saying that all accountants are crooked just because you got cheated by one is an overgeneralization.
C. Our survey shows that 56 percent of viewers liked the movie, which is an overgeneralization.
D. All of the above.

“It’s just that I’m always unlucky, only bad things always happen to me ...”. Self Therapist [How to Change Your Life with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy]

When you over-generalize something, you choose a fact and make it a rule that takes full control of your life. For example, you lost in squash and say to yourself: "Sports games are not for me, I give up ..."; or your friend forgot to call you, although he promised to do it, and you immediately think that he / she does not like you. Overgeneralization literally means that from the smallest event a conclusion follows, in which everything-everything-everything is included. This is exactly the case when we make an elephant out of a fly.

We like to overgeneralize that we can, based on our experience, predict exactly what will happen to us. Maybe you like it because it gives you a (false) sense of security, that is, you can no longer be surprised by any trouble. For example, when your colleagues didn't invite you to sit in a nearby pub after work, you say to yourself (defensively): “I knew it! I am the most unpopular person in the company, now I will definitely never make friends with anyone and I will never succeed. If you yourself believe this, you will begin to subconsciously think, behave and act in accordance with this belief. And it will lead to it will become a reality. You will be on bad terms with people, you will push them away, withdraw into yourself, which subsequently will lead to the fact that you will not be called again to spend time after work in the company of colleagues.

Overgeneralization generates fulfilled predictions, which we need in order to somehow control failure. By convincing yourself that no one likes you at work, you will stop trying, and therefore you will never be invited anywhere else. And then you think: “Aha! I knew it!” and it will turn into a vicious circle. Sad thoughts Eeyore lead to even more sad consequences again and again.

Real life example

Every month, when Doreen, 25, gets another invitation to drink at the city's popular pub with old university friends, she doesn't show up. She convinces herself that no one really wants to see her there, that they invite her only out of pity, because she has never been so popular. And so every day passes the meeting. Doreen deliberately does not go there, although in the depths of her soul there is still a faint hope that she will be welcome. But she convinces herself that it is foolish to think so. One Saturday, Doreen runs into her old college friend Clio by chance. They exchange a couple of phrases, and when Doreen is about to leave, Clea asks: “Why didn’t you come to have fun with us once? Are we not good enough for you?” - "What?" Doreen exclaims, completely taken aback by the question. - "I was sure that it was just the opposite, that it was you who did not want me to come." – “Where did you get it? Clio, in turn, is surprised. Why would we invite you if we didn't want to see you? There are many classmates whom we do not invite.”

Doreen's jaw drops. She never thought about it that way, because she was convinced that she knew exactly what people thought of herself. Finally, she had to admit that she was wrong. The next time she decided to go, but she was very worried before the meeting. Doreen realized that her shyness was the problem, not that her friends didn't want to see her.

Checking for change

Do you tend to generalize too much?

• Have you noticed that you sometimes make generalizations based on the slightest evidence that it might be true? If yes, then try to adequately look at the situation.

• Do you ever think you know what other people are thinking? And if so, did you think you might be wrong? There may be something going on behind the scenes that you have no idea about, try to look at the world as adequately as possible.

“Man can only do what he can. And if he does this every day, he may fall into unconsciousness, but do it again after waking up.

Albert Schweitzer[13]

The 10 most common thinking mistakes. Check if you are in their captivity

Elena Isupova

Thinking errors are habitual patterns of thinking that seem correct and normal, but are actually based on false logic. They make us feel like we're not good enough and can cause us to fail. In the novelty "Free yourself" found the most common.

1. All or nothing

Set yourself free

If you are a victim of all-or-nothing thinking, there is no middle ground for you. You like to use words like "always", "never", "forever". Pay special attention to whether this way of thinking is connected with the perception of yourself as a failure. As for moral and ethical issues, you tend to divide everything into black and white. All-or-nothing thinking is also closely related to perfectionism.

Remind yourself of halftones. — Source

2. Over-generalization

For those who fall prey to over-generalizations, a single case or event becomes the subject of a universal conclusion. The most common examples of overgeneralizations are: "All men/women are the same", "Everything has to be fought for". One bad job interview or breakup with a partner and you're done: "I'll never find a job" or "I'll never find a mate."

3. Mental filter

The mental filter comes into play when we exaggerate the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive ones. For people in his power, the glass is always half empty, and they easily succumb to pessimism. Downplaying the positive is also seen as a thinking error. If you know that you are prone to this, stop yourself in time. Perhaps the mistake is rooted in the belief that you don't deserve good things, so you just can't believe in them when they happen.

4. Jumping to conclusions

Jumping to a conclusion is a conclusion based on too little or no data. Often such conclusions suggest something bad and have a strong negative impact, especially when it comes to what others think of us. As a result, our perception of both ourselves and those around us suffers. For example, if the spouse returned home late, we conclude that he or she has someone on the side. If the room we enter becomes quiet, we assume that this happened only because before that everyone was talking about us.

Jumping to conclusions is inseparable from speculation: "He didn't say hello to me this morning because he's angry with me." Or predictions of the future: "Today I will fail my driving test again. " Such "predictions" do not correspond to reality, because they are based on false arguments.

Take your time. — Source

5. Must Affirmations

In most cases, this is the belief that others "should" share our personal rules. We believe that people "should" be grateful, "should" say thank you, and "should" behave accordingly. Personal rules can be imposed on us from the outside, and then we feel tension and guilt: "I should go to university", "I should have been a more devoted daughter." Or push us to take some action: "I have to finish this review by eight o'clock."

If you use all of your "shoulds" and "shoulds" as a goad for yourself, ask yourself: would you, in a similar situation, apply the same requirements to the person you truly love?

6. Labeling

This is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking or overgeneralization. There is too much emotionally charged language here, which often evokes negative emotions in us. An example would be saying "I'm a loser" instead of "I made a mistake" or "He's a loser" instead of "He should have acted differently." From the moment we put a label on ourselves or someone else, we begin to believe more and more in its correctness. For example, the more often we talk about a colleague who disagrees with our opinion that he is an idiot, the more we believe in it.

7. Emotional thinking

Many people are convinced that if they have strong feelings about something, then they are right. We instinctively believe that a strong emotional reaction confirms the validity of our opinion, and this is especially true when it comes to an unhealthy negative emotion. "I feel this way" turns into "I know" too easily. The feeling of jealousy "convinces" us that we are jealous for a reason and that our partner is really deceiving us. That is why it is one of the most difficult to self-define errors of thinking. And, since it is sometimes easier to go the other way - from a negative emotion to a thought, the next time you feel anger, ask yourself: “Maybe this feeling of anger convinces me of such and such?”.

8. Personalization

Do you often find in yourself the causes of external events, often unpleasant ones? Perhaps you are blaming yourself for something for which you can in no way be responsible. Many regret and tell themselves, “Oh, if only I…” when in fact their actions would have had little or no effect on the situation at all. Out of personalization grow a sense of shame and a sense of inadequacy. Personalization is often associated with narcissistic traits, as its victims see themselves as the center of the universe in their minds.

They also often worry about what others might think of them. — Source

One of the main reasons is the habit of taking personally what was by no means intended as an attack. For example, constructive criticism of a manager. Individuals prone to personalization may see themselves as long-suffering victims. Personalization often goes hand in hand with blaming both oneself and others. Try to note during the week who you hold responsible for the events taking place in your life. To break the cycle, don't allow more than 25% "blame" to be attributed to a person or event.

9. Low tolerance for discomfort

It stems from the belief that everything must be the way we want, otherwise life will be unbearable. How often do we say to ourselves, "I can't stand this..." or "I can't stand it when..."? It is a powerful factor in both stress and anger. Low tolerance for discomfort, as a rule, manifests itself in not very difficult situations and with all sorts of minor troubles, and not during real crises. It is important to change perspective here. Think how happy we would be in the line we are standing in if it were a line for food in the zone of a humanitarian catastrophe.

10. Everything is terrible!

We all tend to think that a situation or event is much worse than it actually is. In order to eliminate this error, you need to ask yourself: “Is it really that terrible?”. The whole question is in perception.

Try for a week to notice errors in your thinking.

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