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The litotes ( Greek  λιτότης litótēs "thrift, restraint", from Greek  λιτός litós "plain, simple") is the stylistic figure of double negation (e.g. not uncommon ) or the negation of the opposite (e.g. not uncommon ). This can be used, for example, to express a claim carefully or to weaken a statement ( understatement ). But emphasis can also be effected indirectly. The litotes often appear in the context of irony .


Double negative:

  • "He's not wrong"
  • "Not without a joke"

Negation of the opposite:

  • "not few"
  • "not bad"

A well-known example from English is not amused . For example, She is not amused literally means “She is not pleased”, but it tends to mean “She is angry”. The wording illustrates that a statement (“angry”) can be weakened by negating the opposite (“not pleased”). This makes it suitable for polite expressions, but also for ironic use.

A Latin example is non ignorare for “to know exactly” (from non , “not”, and ignorare , “to misunderstand”).

Examples from politics would be:

  • "The exit from nuclear phase-out "
  • "The exit from the exit from the exit"
  • "Exit from Brexit"

"False litotes"

In some languages, including German dialects, the double negative actually represents a negative:

  • Our brother Melcher, who wanted to be a rider, if he didn't have a horse, he couldn't become one
  • Des is koa sünd ned (Bavarian: This is no sin)
  • Non è niente di serio (Italian: that is not nothing serious)
  • Nemám nic (Czech: I don't have anything)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Duden online: Litotes
  2. See Pons: Litotes . The definition is simplified here: "Affirmation through double negation".
  3. Duden Volume 5: The foreign dictionary, 10th edition.
  4. Duden Sprachratgeber: The Litotes