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Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: April 25, 2024


Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement where you express a positive statement using a double negative or by negating its opposite, often resulting in an ironic effect. This rhetorical device is used to emphasize a point subtly or to soften a statement, making it less direct. An example of litotes is saying “not bad” to mean “good.” This technique allows the speaker or writer to express modesty, sarcasm, or euphemism. By understating something, litotes can enhance the impact of an idea by drawing attention to what is left unsaid, encouraging the audience to read between the lines.

What is a Litotes?

Litotes is a rhetorical device that uses understatement by expressing a positive statement through double negatives or negating its opposite. For example, saying “not bad” instead of “good.” This technique subtly emphasizes a point by downplaying its significance, often conveying modesty or irony. It allows for nuanced expression, adding depth to communication by implying more than what is explicitly stated, often with a touch of subtlety or sarcasm.

Pronunciation of Litotes

pronunciation of “litotes” is straightforward when broken down into syllables. You can say it as:


This breaks down into three parts:

LIT” as in the start of “literature”

uh” a soft, short sound

teez” rhymes with “fleas”

Together, it’s “LIT-uh-teez.

Types of Litotes

Types of Litotes

Litotes is a figure of speech that uses understatement to emphasize a point by denying its opposite. Types include:

  1. Simple Litotes: This is the most basic form of litotes, where the negation of the opposite is used to express a positive sentiment. For example, saying “not bad” to describe something good, or “not unkind” to describe someone who is kind.
  2. Double Litotes: In double litotes, two negative elements are used to express a positive statement. For instance, saying “not uncommon” to convey that something is common, or “not impossible” to imply that something is possible.
  3. Litotes of Understatement: This type of litotes involves using understatement to downplay a situation or attribute. For example, saying “He’s not the brightest bulb” to suggest that someone is not very intelligent, or “I’m not exactly thrilled” to express disappointment.

How are Litotes Used?

Litotes are used in language to convey meaning by understating it. Here’s how they are used:

  1. Emphasis: By denying the opposite of a statement, litotes draw attention to the intended meaning. For example, saying “not bad” emphasizes that something is actually good.
  2. Subtlety: Litotes allow speakers or writers to express themselves in a more subtle or indirect manner. Instead of making a direct statement, they use negation to imply the intended meaning.
  3. Politeness: Litotes can be used to soften criticism or negative statements, making them more polite or diplomatic. For instance, saying “not the best” instead of “bad” when providing feedback.
  4. Humor: Litotes can add humor to language by creating irony or contradiction. For example, saying “not the sharpest tool in the shed” to humorously imply someone’s lack of intelligence.
  5. Rhetorical Effect: Litotes can have a rhetorical effect, adding complexity or depth to language. They can evoke a sense of nuance or ambiguity, encouraging readers or listeners to interpret the statement more critically.

Rules for using Litotes in Writing

While there are no strict rules for using litotes in writing, here are some guidelines to consider:

  1. Context: Use litotes when it enhances the intended meaning or tone of your writing. Consider the context and purpose of your message before employing this rhetorical device.
  2. Clarity: Ensure that the use of litotes does not obscure the intended meaning or confuse the reader. The negation should still convey the opposite of what is being denied in a clear and understandable manner.
  3. Subtlety: Litotes are most effective when used subtly. Avoid overusing them or making them too obvious, as this can diminish their impact and come across as heavy-handed.
  4. Emphasis: Use litotes to emphasize a point or draw attention to a particular aspect of your writing. They can add nuance and complexity to language by highlighting understated or nuanced meanings.
  5. Variety: Experiment with different forms of litotes, such as simple litotes, double litotes, or litotes of understatement, to add variety and interest to your writing.
  6. Effectiveness: Consider the effect you want to achieve with the use of litotes. They can be used to soften criticism, add humor, create irony, or evoke a particular mood or atmosphere.
  7. Audience: Keep your audience in mind when using litotes. Ensure that they will understand the intended meaning and appreciate the subtlety of your language.

Litotes In literature

In literature, litotes serve as a rhetorical device that adds depth and nuance to language by employing understatement. Writers use litotes to emphasize a point indirectly by negating its opposite. This technique allows for subtlety, allowing readers to interpret the intended meaning more critically. Litotes can be found in various forms of literature, including poetry, prose, and drama, where they contribute to characterization, mood, and theme. By downplaying or softening statements, litotes can evoke a sense of irony, humor, or even ambiguity, enriching the reader’s experience and adding complexity to the text.

Here are ten examples of litotes in literature:

  1. “He’s not the bravest man I’ve ever met.” – implying that he is cowardly.
  2. “She’s not unfriendly.” – suggesting that she is friendly.
  3. “They weren’t unkind to me.” – indicating that they were kind.
  4. “It’s not the worst idea.” – meaning that it’s a good idea.
  5. “The test wasn’t too difficult.” – suggesting that the test was easy.
  6. “He’s not exactly a genius.” – implying that he is not intelligent.
  7. “The weather isn’t unpleasing.” – indicating that the weather is pleasant.
  8. “She’s not unlike her mother.” – suggesting that she resembles her mother.
  9. “It’s not uncommon for him to be late.” – indicating that he is frequently late.
  10. “The food isn’t bad.” – implying that the food is good.

Synonyms & Antonyms For Litotes

Synonyms & Antonyms For Litotes


  1. Understatement: Saying something is less important or serious than it really is.
  2. Diminution: Making something seem smaller or less significant.
  3. Minimization: Reducing the importance or impact of something.
  4. Downplaying: Making something seem less important or serious.
  5. Underemphasis: Not giving something as much importance or attention as it deserves.
  6. Modesty: Being humble and not bragging about one’s achievements.
  7. Meiosis: Using words that downplay or belittle something.
  8. Euphemism: Using a mild or indirect word or phrase instead of a harsh or blunt one.
  9. Restraint: Showing self-control and not exaggerating or being too emotional.
  10. Simplicity: Using clear and straightforward language without unnecessary complexity.


  1. Overstatement: Saying something is more important or serious than it really is.
  2. Amplification: Making something seem larger or more significant.
  3. Exaggeration: Overstating the importance or impact of something.
  4. Hyperbole: Exaggerating something to make it seem more important or serious.
  5. Magnification: Giving something more importance or attention than it deserves.
  6. Embellishment: Adding extra details or exaggerating to make something seem more impressive.
  7. Aggrandizement: Making something seem greater or more impressive than it really is.
  8. Bombast: Using language that is pompous or overly grandiose.
  9. Hyperbolism: Using excessive or exaggerated language to make a point.
  10. Ornamentation: Adding unnecessary or excessive decoration or embellishment to language.

Litotes vs. Hyperbole

Understatement: Downplays the importance or magnitude of something by denying its opposite.Overstatement: Exaggerates the importance or magnitude of something for emphasis.
Example: “Not bad” to mean “good”.Example: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
Emphasizes subtly and indirectly.Emphasizes dramatically and extravagantly.
Often used for irony or understated humor.Often used for emphasis or to make a point vividly.
Can soften criticism or negative statements.Can heighten emotions or create vivid imagery.
Example: “She’s not unfriendly.”Example: “I’ve told you a million times!”
Conveys a sense of restraint or modesty.Conveys a sense of intensity or exaggeration.

Litotes vs. Ethos

Definition: Uses understatement to emphasize a point by denying its opposite.Definition: Establishes credibility and trustworthiness.
Example: “Not bad” to imply “good”.Example: A doctor advocating for a healthy lifestyle.
Emphasis: Subtle and indirect.Emphasis: Credibility and authority.
Usage: Language and rhetoric.Usage: Persuasive communication and argumentation.
Example: “She’s not unfriendly.”Example: Respected scientist discussing climate change.
Implication: Restraint or modesty.Implication: Trustworthiness and expertise.

Examples of Litotes in Sentences

  1. Today’s weather is not too bad.
  2. She’s not unkind, just a bit quiet.
  3. His performance wasn’t terrible, considering the circumstances.
  4. I’m not exactly thrilled about going to the dentist.
  5. The party wasn’t the worst I’ve been to.
  6. The test wasn’t too difficult, just a few tricky questions.
  7. His cooking isn’t half bad, actually quite tasty.
  8. The traffic wasn’t exactly light on the way home.
  9. It’s not uncommon for him to be a little forgetful.
  10. The hike wasn’t exactly easy, but we managed it.

Examples of Litotes in Poetry

  1. “She’s not unlovely, this rose of the vale,”
    • This line suggests that the rose is indeed lovely, despite the use of understatement.
  2. “His words were not unwelcome, a gentle breeze on a summer’s day,”
    • The poet implies that the words were actually welcome and pleasant, like a refreshing breeze.
  3. “The stars were not unfriendly, twinkling softly in the night sky,”
    • This line suggests that the stars are actually friendly and comforting, despite the understated description.
  4. “The rain was not uninvited, refreshing the parched earth below,”
    • Here, the rain is depicted as welcome and necessary for the earth, despite the use of understatement.
  5. “Her smile was not unpleasant, lighting up the room with its warmth,”
    • The smile is actually pleasant and heartwarming, despite the understated description.
  6. “The silence was not unwelcome, a peaceful retreat from the chaos of the world,”
    • This line suggests that the silence is actually welcome and comforting, offering respite from the chaos.
  7. “His laughter was not unkind, a melody that brightened the darkest of days,”
    • The laughter is depicted as kind and uplifting, despite the use of understatement.
  8. “The snow was not unwelcome, blanketing the land in a soft, white embrace,”
    • Here, the snow is portrayed as welcome and comforting, despite the understated description.
  9. “The darkness was not uninviting, a comforting shroud that wrapped around me,”
    • This line suggests that the darkness is actually inviting and comforting, providing solace.
  10. “Her tears were not unwanted, a cleansing rain that washed away the pain.”
    • The tears are depicted as necessary and healing, despite the use of understatement.

Examples of Litotes in Movies

  1. In “The Lion King,” when Mufasa tells Simba, “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble,” he is implying that bravery involves more than just seeking out danger.
  2. In “The Dark Knight,” when Batman says, “I’m not wearing hockey pads,” he is understating the situation to convey his displeasure with the comparison.
  3. In “The Princess Bride,” when Westley says, “I’m not left-handed,” before switching his sword to his dominant hand, he is downplaying his true skill in sword fighting.
  4. In “Finding Nemo,” when Marlin tells Dory, “I’m not crying, it’s just been raining on my face,” he is using understatement to hide his emotions.
  5. In “The Matrix,” when Morpheus says, “You’re not the one,” to Neo, he is downplaying Neo’s potential significance in the war against the machines.
  6. In “Frozen,” when Elsa sings, “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know,” she is using litotes to understate the extent of her emotions and the control she must maintain.
  7. In “Toy Story,” when Woody says, “This isn’t flying, this is falling with style,” he is using litotes to downplay the situation of Buzz Lightyear’s fall while also highlighting his bravery.
  8. In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” when Dumbledore says, “Nor do I,” in response to McGonagall’s concern about the safety of putting Harry with the Dursleys, he is subtly acknowledging the danger while downplaying it.
  9. In “The Avengers,” when Captain America says, “I could do this all day,” he is using litotes to understate his determination and resilience in battle.
  10. In “Jurassic Park,” when Dr. Grant says, “That doesn’t look very scary,” upon seeing the T-Rex enclosure, he is downplaying his fear while also acknowledging its potential danger.

Examples of Litotes in Songs

  1. In “Let It Be” by The Beatles, when they sing, “It’s not too late,” they’re using litotes to suggest that there’s still time to make things better.
  2. In “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, when he sings, “She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne, and she cut your hair,” he’s using litotes to understate the impact of the woman’s actions on the protagonist.
  3. In “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt, when he sings, “She smiled at me on the subway, she was with another man, but I won’t lose any sleep on that,” he’s downplaying the significance of the situation.
  4. In “Mad World” by Tears for Fears, when they sing, “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had,” they’re using litotes to understate the protagonist’s despair.
  5. In “Imagine” by John Lennon, when he sings, “Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do,” he’s using litotes to understate the difficulty of imagining a world without borders.
  6. In “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, when they sing, “People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening,” they’re using litotes to understate the lack of communication and connection.
  7. In “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, when they sing, “Don’t be afraid,” they’re using litotes to understate the fear that the protagonist may be feeling.
  8. In “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, when she sings, “I remember we were driving, driving in your car, speed so fast I felt like I was drunk,” she’s using litotes to understate the exhilaration of the moment.
  9. In “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland, when she sings, “Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can’t I?” she’s using litotes to understate the desire to escape to a better place.
  10. In “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, when Freddie Mercury sings, “Nothing really matters, anyone can see, nothing really matters to me,” he’s using litotes to understate the depth of his apathy.

Examples of Litotes in Books

  1. In “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, when Scout describes her father Atticus as “not a very good shot,” she’s understating his marksmanship skills.
  2. In “1984” by George Orwell, when Winston Smith describes the ruling Party’s slogans as “not untruthful,” he’s downplaying their deceitful nature.
  3. In “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, when Mr. Darcy describes Elizabeth Bennet as “not handsome enough to tempt me,” he’s understating his attraction to her.
  4. In “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, when Nick Carraway describes Gatsby’s parties as “not unimpressive,” he’s understating their grandeur.
  5. In “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, when Holden Caulfield describes his brother D.B.’s writing talent as “not bad,” he’s understating his admiration.
  6. In “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, when Gandalf describes Bilbo Baggins as “not entirely unrespectable,” he’s downplaying Bilbo’s potential for adventure.
  7. In “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville, when Ishmael describes the whale as “not unwhale-like,” he’s understating its enormity and uniqueness.
  8. In “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis, when Lucy describes Mr. Tumnus as “not unfriendly,” she’s downplaying his kindness.
  9. In “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, when Mr. Rochester describes Jane’s appearance as “not unpleasing,” he’s understating his attraction to her.
  10. In “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, when the Man describes the weather as “not unkind,” he’s understating the harshness of the post-apocalyptic environment.

What is the Purpose of litotes?

The purpose of litotes is to understate a point or idea for emphasis, to create irony, or to convey a sense of modesty or restraint in language.

What are litotes also known as?

Litotes understate a point for emphasis or irony. They’re known as meiosis. Example: “not unworthy.” Identified by double negatives or understated language. Used for modesty or emphasis.

What is an example of litotes in the Bible?

An example of litotes in the Bible is found in Philippians 1:20: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage.”

How do you identify litotes?

Litotes are identified by the use of double negatives or understated language to express a positive idea or emphasize a point indirectly.

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