All terms

What is a Litotes?

A form of understatement that uses a negative to express a positive.

Litotes: Understatement Intentionally Intentional

If you’re looking to add some flair to your writing, it’s always a good idea to expand your knowledge of literary devices. Litotes is one such example, and it involves an interesting twist on the usual positive statement.

In litotes, instead of making an affirmative statement, a writer will use a negative to express a positive. It's often used to create a sense of understatement, as well as to convey a strong sense of irony. For instance, a writer might state that something isn’t “bad” to indicate that it’s actually quite good.

Thus, litotes can be a powerful tool for communicating ideas in an indirect manner. It can also help to create a sense of nuance or complexity that might not be achieved using other devices. So, if you're looking to convey some deeper meanings in your writing, give litotes a try!

Litotes: Two Examples That Show How to Do it Right

Here are two examples of litotes used effectively in literature.

Example 1: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens often uses litotes to portray his characters' modesty, as with this quote from the novel: 'I am not at all polite, now, to the Misses Gummidge; and am very far from congratulating them on their good fortune.' Here, Dickens uses negation to express a positive, indicating that the speaker is actually quite polite.

Example 2: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

In Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, the character Heathcliff delivers this line: 'I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.' Here, Heathcliff uses negation to put a positive spin on his declaration of love, indicating that he is deeply affected by the emotional situation.