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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Over and Under


Do you always say exactly what you mean? Understatement is when we soften what we say, saying less than we really mean. Exaggeration (also called overstatement) is when we say more than what is true. Do you ever do either of these?


There are many ways to use understatement.

a. To be funny. EXAMPLE: The temperature is 38 degrees C (100F). Someone says, "It's kind of warm today."
b. To be modest. EXAMPLE: The Beatles are considered by many to be the greatest rock band ever. Member Paul McCartney once called them "a pretty good little band."
c. To be polite. EXAMPLE: Someone calls a very fat person "a little overweight."
d. To downplay a problem caused by the speaker. EXAMPLE: Someone makes a mistake that could cost the company a lot of money, and tells the boss, "I think I might have made a small mistake…"

Of course, some uses of understatement may be several of these. If a man who lives in a mansion says, "Welcome to my humble home," he may be trying to be funny, modest, and polite all at the same time!

On the other hand…
e. Exaggeration is mainly used for emphasis: "I'm exhausted" instead of "I'm tired." But it can also be used to add humor. EXAMPLE: "I've told you a million times: DON'T EXAGGERATE!"


Which of the above reasons is the main one used in each sentence below? Use the proper letter a-e from above.

You step hard on someone's foot. Even though he looks upset, he says, "No problem." (c)
My boss is killing me! (e; exaggeration for "My boss is making my job difficult.")

1. Someone says of a stupid person, "He's a little slow."
2. A boy has completely wrecked the family car and tells his dad, "I had a small accident."
3. A very successful man says, "I have done OK."
4. At dinner time, a boy tells his mom, "I'm starving."
5. During a big rainstorm someone says "It's moist out."
6. A woman's son wins top awards in school and she says he's "pretty smart."
7. On a summer day, someone says, "It's hotter than hell."
8. A girl is going to be an hour late to meet her boyfriend; she calls him and says, "You may have to wait a few minutes."


Think of situations where you might want to be funny, modest, or polite; or where you want to downplay or exaggerate something. Try to make sentences to achieve your goal. Share this lesson with a friend. Then tell him or her your sentences, and see if he or she can guess what you are trying to do.


1c 2d 3b 4e 5a 6b 7e 8d

This lesson is ©2011 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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