Litotes: Definition and Examples of Litotes in Everyday Language & Literature

When listening to the English language being spoken, you are likely to come across the form of figurative language, litotes. But what is this concept and how is it used? In this article, we are going to find out what litotes is and how it can be used in both spoken conversation and as a literary device. We will also look at some examples of litotes being used in everyday speech as well as in the written text.


Litotes Definition

What is litotes? Litotes is a form of the figure of speech which negates a positive in order to convey understated irony. The classic example of litotes is the term ‘not bad.’ As you can see, both of these words are negative but when placed together form a positive sentence. In most contexts, the use of litotes is used to understate a thing or situation.

It is a form of figurative language which uses a negative to assert a positive. By using this method, we use litotes to imply the opposite meaning of something, for example, by saying that someone is not thin, you are implying that they are fat. Litotes must always contain a negative.

Litotes Examples

Litotes in Everyday Language

As with many types of figures of speech, litotes can be heard regularly in everyday speech. It is something which is often used during an informal conversation. We are now going to take a look at some examples of litotes being used in general conversation.

  • He isn’t the friendliest person.
  • It was not an awful trip.
  • She is not unkind.
  • They are not unhappy with the house.
  • The two ideas are not unlike one another.
  • He is no spring chicken.
  • That is not too shabby.
  • Her singing is not bad.
  • It isn’t really a walk in the park.
  • It is not the worst thing I have ever seen.
  • He is not exactly poor.
  • His cooking is not terrible.
  • Finland is no ordinary country.
  • It isn’t rocket science.
  • Your comments on their songs were less than smart.
  • The apple does not fall far from the tree.
  • He is not unlike his sister.
  • I was there for a year, that is no small amount of time.
  • They don’t exactly have a normal relationship.
  • She is not the brightest bulb in the box.
  • She is not the sharpest tool in the toolbox.
  • Theme parks are not my cup of tea.
  • They do not seem the happiest people in the world.
  • That ice cream was not bad.
  • Those ideas on the matter are not useless.
  • He cannot disagree with my point of view.
  • My brother is not the cleverest person in the world.
  • Your house is not untidy.
  • He won the lottery, it was not a small amount of money.
  • She is not doing too badly at all.
  • He won’t regret that decision.
  • He thinks he is good on the guitar but he is hardly Jimi Hendrix.
  • It is not the best weather today.
  • The painting was good but it was no Da Vinci.

Litotes in Literature

There have been many times in which litotes has been used in literature in order to display an understated irony to a situation. By using these double negatives, an ironic twist can be added to the text. We will now take a look at some examples of times when litotes has been used in literature such as poetry, stories, and songs.

  • “For he is not stupid, blind or disrespectful to our Gods.”

This is an example of litotes being used in the Classic text from ancient Greece written by Homer, entitled Illiad.

  • “Hildeburgh had little cause to question them.”

This example of litotes is found in the poem Beowulf, which has been translated by Seamus Heaney.

  • “He has not failed to annoy us with messages.”

This is a line from the play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare in which we can see a clear example of litotes being used.

  • “To express the odd and not a little eerie contrast between them”.

This is an example of litotes in use from the novel The Great Gatsby written by F Scott Fitzgerald.

  • “The sword was not useless for the warrior.”

This is another example from Beowulf of litotes being used as a literary device.

  • “I am no prophet and here is no good matter.”

This is an example of litotes being used in The love song of Alfred Prufock written by T S Elliot.

  • “No, it is not as deep as a well nor is it as wide as the door of a church.”

Here we see litotes being used in the play Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare.

  • “It is really not that hard to provide, if that is what you want to do.”

This example of litotes is taken from The glass castle written by Jeanette Ward.

  • “I am not unaware of the productions effects.”

This example of litotes is taken from A tale of a tub written by Jonathan Swift.

  • “It is not uncommon for the slaves to argue amongst themselves.”

Here is an example of litotes which is found in the written text The Narrative of the life of Fred Douglas, an American slave, which was written by Frederick Douglas.

  • “I can not say that I consider you to be kind to the ladies.”

This example of litotes is taken from Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams.

  • “I shall multiply and they will not be few.”

This is an example of litotes which can be found in the book of Jeremiah in the Holy Bible.

  • “I am guessing that you were not burdened with a good schooling.”

This is an example of litotes being used in Firefly by Malcolm Reynolds.


In looking closely at the use of litotes, we have learnt that it is used to convey an understated irony by using a double negative. By negating a word, we can add the required understatement. Litotes is used frequently in every day spoken language and we can see plenty of examples of its use in a literary context.

Litotes Infographic