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Understatement: Definition and Examples | Grammarly

An understatement is a determine of speech through which the author deliberately downplays or minimizes the importance or depth of a scenario, usually to be rhetorical or satirical or to (counterintuitively) create emphasis. Right here, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty particulars of what understatements are (and aren’t) so you know the way to identify them—and the best way to use them.

What’s an understatement?

An understatement is a literary system used to downplay a scenario as much less critical, much less vital, or smaller than it truly is. Understatements are usually used to emphasise the very high quality they downplay. When used satirically, understatements are highly effective instruments for humor and depth. When used unironically, understatements can be utilized to downplay expressions that may in any other case come off as inappropriate or conceited, comparable to saying “I did alright” after profitable an Olympic gold medal.

When to make use of understatements

Causes to make use of understatements would possibly embrace: being humorous, emphasizing the topic at hand, or being well mannered.

We regularly use understatements to attract consideration to issues. We need to come throughout as humorous by jokingly portraying issues as a lot lower than they’re, or present that we’re well mannered by downplaying our personal successes or emotions.

In writing, understatements can be utilized deliberately to emphasise one thing in an essay, poem, music, story, or script. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare describes Mercutio’s stab wound as “ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch.” On this case, Shakespeare makes use of understatement to focus on how critical the scenario has grow to be and to interrupt the stress by comedic aid.

Understatements depend on a standard understanding of their figurative which means, so utilizing them in writing can present your familiarity with the language and add to your credibility as a author. They will additionally make your writing extra conversational.

3 understatement literary units


Irony, “the expression of 1’’s which means through the use of language that usually signifies the alternative, usually for humorous or emphatic impact,” is a kind of understatement. You utilize understatement to suggest “much less” than what you imply, and irony when saying the alternative of what you imply.

Because the hurricane approached, they famous that it was “a bit of breezy at the moment.”


Litotes are intentional understatements which can be used to melt an expression through the use of a destructive to convey a optimistic. Litotes use a destructive comparable to not or no in an effort to create the identical impact as an understatement. All litotes are understatements, however not all understatements are litotes.

“Not a nasty concept,” she mentioned, after listening to the right answer to their downside.


A meiosis is a kind of understatement usually used to undermine or belittle an individual, scenario, object, or motion; to keep away from naming the topic at hand; and for humorous impact. A meiosis particularly works as a euphemism.

He was on the group however principally served as a benchwarmer.

Understatements shouldn’t be confused with “false statements,” that are purposely incorrect in an effort to mislead. Understatements must be apparent. While you understate one thing, you accomplish that with out the intention of mendacity. For instance, in the event you had been to crash your automobile:

  • Understatement: Nothing a bit of TLC can’t repair.
  • False assertion: The automobile continues to be drivable.

Quite than being clearly humorous, false statements take an goal stance and are available throughout as misleading.

Understatement synonyms

  • Downplay
  • Euphemism
  • Minimization
  • Reserved
  • Restrained
  • Trivialization
  • Subtlety
  • Underemphasize
  • Underplay

Understatement vs. euphemism

Like understatements, euphemisms are to not be interpreted actually. Euphemisms are used to sidestep a heavy matter or uncomfortable scenario, utilizing extra nice imagery and language to melt the dialog at hand.

Euphemisms are employed particularly round subjects like politics, intercourse, cash, and demise. As a substitute of claiming your pet died, you would possibly say they “crossed over the rainbow bridge.” For those who had been utilizing an understatement, you would possibly say, “My pet is not with me.”

Each take the load off the subject however are totally different. Euphemisms are used to substitute a harsher phrase with one thing extra delicate and oblique when a subject is uncomfortable. Euphemisms make language extra socially acceptable and fewer provocative.

Understatement vs. overstatement

Whether or not overstating or understating one thing, they’re each employed for dramatic impact. Each understatements and their antonym, overstatements, are used figuratively.

The place understatements purpose to make issues seem smaller than they’re, overstatements, additionally known as hyperbole, make issues seem a lot larger, extra dramatic, and extra critical than they’re.

Understatements downplay whereas overstatements exaggerate.

When utilizing understatement to explain a flood, you would possibly flip to humor and say, “It rained a bit final night time.” For those who’re utilizing hyperbole, you’d say, “It’s an ocean on the market.”

Understatement examples

  • There’s been a slight downside. (When the issue is disastrous.)
  • I’m feeling a bit underneath the climate. (When you’ve got the bubonic plague.)
  • The cookie was fairly good. (When it was the perfect factor you’ve ever eaten.)
  • Welcome to my humble abode. (When welcoming folks into your mansion.)
  • I could have made a minor mistake. (While you’re calling from jail.)

Understatement FAQs

What’s an understatement?

An understatement is a determine of speech through which a scenario or occasion is deliberately downplayed or represented as much less vital, much less spectacular, or much less critical than it truly is.

Why use an understatement?

Understatements are sometimes used for rhetorical impact, humor, emphasis, or to create a way of irony. They rely on the viewers’s means to acknowledge that the which means will not be literal.

How does understatement work in writing?

An understatement is a robust system that may assist talk complicated concepts or provoke thought and emotion by intentionally minimizing sure components. Understatements can be utilized to have interaction readers, create a tone, embed comedic results, or draw consideration to one thing.



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