Questions tagged [litotes]

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What are "double negatives" in English, and are they ever correct?

This is a followup to a comment exchange and particularly this comment over on ELL. One user contends that a double negative is always wrong in standard English. This user also maintains that: First, ...
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1 vote
2 answers
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"It cannot be too firmly realised"?

I am trying to translate a book into Portuguese and came across this sentence whose meaning I cannot really grasp. Maybe someone could help me understand the meaning of: It cannot be too firmly ...
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"It has not been unchanged." Is that a valid sentence? [duplicate]

Do I have to understand the sentence: It has not been unchanged .. as if the related subject actually changed, or whether there has been no change at all? In short, is this a double negative?
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discount all improbabilities = make probable? [closed]

Mr. Graham Hancock in his book "The Mars Mystery" quotes Hoyle, "Origin of Universe" I saw that the answer to this question lies in what is now called the anthropic principle, which says that the ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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Does litotes need to be negative?

For example, are the following examples of litotes: Ariel (The Tempest): ‘The powers, delaying, not forgetting’ (Stresses a past injustice being remembered) Adam (Paradise Lost): ‘nothing ...
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Are both "You can do no worse than" and "You can do worse than" accepted?

I came across "You can do no worse than" in the following article: You can do no worse than follow the regular updates that ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is posting in his blog as he conducts his ...
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5 votes
1 answer
368 views

Are litotes more common in Australian English?

Are litotes more common in Australian English, especially colloquial speech, compared to other dialects of English such as American English? I could find on ELU a comment stating that this is the ...
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4 answers
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It's not ___, but it's not not ___ either

Are there general modifiers for adjectives that indicate a gray area between the adjective and its negative? E.g., "Plywood isn't wooden, but it isn't not-wooden either. Therefore, plywood is ____ly ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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Litotes: Always for Emphasis? Used for Non-committal Hedging? Any Authoritative Source?

My question is about litotes. I’m wondering if it is always for emphasis, or whether it can be a type of non-committal statement or hedging. And, is there an authoritative source that can be cited ...
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5 votes
3 answers
2k views

Double negation and litotes

A friend of mine who's a native English speaker corrected me the other day. I said something like "it's not something no-one has done before". He told me about the rule that states that double ...
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5 votes
7 answers
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Euphemism for "non-useful"

I was just about to tell someone how something "wouldn't really be much useful" if they leave it the way it is — which is like a much more polite version of useless, but I just couldn't find the word. ...
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-1 votes
5 answers
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"Not once he would" vs. "not once would he"

Not being a native speaker and suffering semantic satiation from overthinking this, I'd like to ask this probably overly simple question. Not once would he... uses reversal for negation and means "...
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3 votes
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Can you negate a positive without implying the opposite?

I often stumble over the fact that in English, apparently, we imply the reverse when we negate a positive. For example, That wasn't very good. [⇒ That was bad.] That wasn't bad. [⇒ That was good.]...
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3 votes
4 answers
4k views

Usage and example of the word “litotes”

I've come across the word litotes, which means a rhetorical understatement. However, I’m having trouble understanding how to use it in colloquial English. Could someone please give an example?
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Are "not uncommon" and similar phrases double negatives? Should their use be avoided?

When I think of double negatives I think of phrases that grate on the ears, like: I'm not going to do no homework. I'm never going to not go visit Graceland. There are some phrases that appear to ...
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