Rhetorical Device: Litotes

Litotes is a figure of speech where a positive statement is made by negating its opposite. It is a form of understatement which adds emphasis to a statement by emphasizing the opposite of what is actually said. For example, rather than saying "He is very strong," one might say "He is not weak." This form of speech is often used to display a sense of modesty, or to make a statement in a more subtle way.

Litotes can be a useful tool for public speakers. It allows them to emphasize a point without appearing too boastful, or to add emphasis when making a point without appearing overbearing. Additionally, it can be used to make a statement in a humorous way, which can be useful in some forms of public speaking. Finally, it can be used to make a point in a more subtle way and can be especially helpful when discussing sensitive topics.


  • He is no oil painting
  • The hotel was not cheap
  • I'm not excited about hearing Uncle Frank's latest consipracy theories at Thanksgiving
  • I wouldn't say no to a cup of tea
  • Her work has not gone unnoticed
  • It's not my first rodeo
WWS rhetorical device explainer card on litotes

Examples from speeches

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them. Ronald Reagan, "Address to the Nation on The Challenger" (28 January 1986)

We must not forget the non-Ukrainian refugees. This includes third-country nationals fleeing Ukraine, as well as refugees from other countries. All people seeking protection in our member states are entitled to the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Leyla Kayacik, "Address to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe" (25 October 2022)

To renew America, we must be bold.
We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a world in which we must compete for every opportunity.
It will not be easy; it will require sacrifice. But it can be done, and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake, but for our own sake. We must provide for our nation the way a family provides for its children. Bill Clinton, "First Inaugural Address" (21 January 1993)

Further reading

  • LiteraryDevices.net: Litotes Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • LitCharts: Litotes Visit
  • Wikipedia: Litotes Visit
  • Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Litotes in English Grammar." ThoughtCo Visit