English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What would be the expression to describe making something "not unpleasant"/"less unpleasant"? Specifically, not making it pleasant (adding comforts) but minimizing the expected discomforts.

Let's say, a convict is being put in prison. The stay will not be pleasant, that much is known, but the guards learn facts that make them feel sympathy for the convict, so given the little wiggle room they have, they will try to make it as non-unpleasant as possible.

share|improve this question
Have you checked a thesaurus? – Mitch Oct 8 '12 at 21:42
@Mitch: I'm afraid my grasp of english is not enough to fish out expressions on the "minimally negative" scale as opposed to the "positive" ones (synonyms of pleasant). – SF. Oct 8 '12 at 21:57
I think I'd stick with something like some meager kindnesses from the guards made his stay not entirely unpleasant or something like that. – Jim Oct 8 '12 at 22:18
up vote 25 down vote accepted

Since 'not unpleasant' is an understatement (litotes), an appropriate counterpart might be:


share|improve this answer


share|improve this answer

Mitch's suggestion of 'tolerable' is spot-on - particularly for the scenario you described.

Other adjectives that suggest "not unpleasant":

  • okay
  • bearable
  • adequate
  • sufficient
  • passable
share|improve this answer

Here's a couple of ideas:

  • Gild the pill. Refers to the practice of coating bad-tasting pills with gold to make them easier to swallow.
  • Sugar-coat. Similar connotation as above, coating something that tastes bad with sugar to make the taste more palatable.
  • Beguile. To divert attention away from something unpleasant in order to make it pass more agreeably.
  • Pleasant. The word pleasant itself can be used as a verb.
share|improve this answer
+1 for sugar-coat. Even though I don't think sugar-coat would work for the O.P.'s example context (I don't think a guard could sugar-coat a prison stay), there are still many other contexts where sugar-coat would be a great way to express "less unpleasant." – J.R. Oct 9 '12 at 8:42

An idiom: To 'smooth the edges' of something.

common verbs: to make something bearable, to make something passable

adjectives: acceptable, bearable, passable

share|improve this answer

You can use

  • endurable
  • livable
  • sufferable

in place of "non un-pleasant".

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.