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How to use 'understatement'

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 'She's not the most intelligent person in the world!'

What is 'understatement'?

Understatement is used when a speaker wants to  a make a situation seem less strong or important than it is.

For example, think about this situation:

You have taken ten exams in school and passed them all with a score of 100%. Someone asks you:

'How did you do on your test?'

You answer:

'I did OK.'

This is understatement. We can also call this modesty.

It would not be understatement to say:

'I did fantastic! I had the best result! I’m wonderful!'

We would call this a boast.

Being polite using 'understatment'.

In spoken English we use understatement when we want to be tactful.

For example take a look at Bob…

How would you describe him? It’s not polite to call him 'fat'.

Here we can use 'understatement' to be polite.

Take a look at these set of expressions. All of these are ways we would use understatement to describe Bob.

  • He's not the thinnest person in the world.
  • He's a little on the big side.
  • I wouldn’t say he was thin.

We can use these expressions to describe a variety of places, people and things:

London is expensive: 'London is not the cheapest place in the world'

Her new husband is old: 'He's a little on the old side'.

The food is terrible: 'I wouldn't say it tasted great'.


Modesty (noun): when someone does not talk about their good abilities and achievements. Positive meaning.

Boast (Verb/noun): when someone talks too proudly about their abilities or achievements. Negative meaning.

Tactful (adjective): careful not to say or do anything that could upset someone

Now think of some understatement sentences and add them to the 'Add new comment' below.

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