Video:What Is an Understatement?with Heather Kamins
Understatement can be used ironically and humorously in creative and descriptive writing, and also conversation. Learn about using understatement in this grammar video from About.com.See Transcript
Transcript:What Is an Understatement?
Hello. This is Heather Kamins for About.com, and today I'm here to explain what an understatement is.
What is Understatment?
An understatement is a figure of speech that intentionally underplays the thing you're talking about. For example, if there's a severe rainstorm outside, and you say, it's a little bit damp - that's an understatement. You're really downplaying what's actually happening.
How is Understatement Used?
Understatement is one form of irony, where the words that you're using, their literal meaning is the opposite of what you're trying to convey. A contrasting form of speech would be hyperbole, which exaggerates or plays up what you're talking about. So if you're having a busy day and wanted to describe it with a hyperbole, you could say I have a million things to do. That's an exaggeration.
Understatement can have a humorous effect. For example, if you have a really big dog, and if you refer to it as a little puppy or you name it Tiny. Understatement can also be used to be polite or modest. For example, if you're with a friend and they're trying on an outfit that really doesn't look very good, instead of saying oh! that looks awful - and you actually think it does - then you could say, oh, that looks a little bit snug, or, that color looks a little bit bright on you. If you and a friend both took a test and you know that he didn't do as well as you, when he asks how you did on the test, you can say, oh, I did okay - even though you know you actually did really well.
Thanks for watching. To learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.