An understatement is a figure of speech when a speaker makes the situation seem less important or severe than what it is. The remark makes something seem smaller. An understatement adds humor to serious situations. When verbal, the speaker delivers the statement without expression for effect.
Think of an understatement as the opposite of hyperbole.
Example #1 – A hurricane has hit your home at the beach. Most likely the home has serious damage. You say, “At least the plants will get watered.”
Example #2 – Astronaut Jim Lovell talks to NASA after an oxygen tank exploded aboard Apollo 13.
Houston, we’ve had a problem.
Example #3 – Bill Gates has a little money.
Example #4 – In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie states “Cannibalism is frowned upon in most societies.”
Understatements in Songs
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.- REM
I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell. – Matchbox Twenty
I ain’t blue, baby, Just a little bit lonesome for some lovin’, Everything is fine, Just don’t want to be all by myself. – Bonnie Rait
Free Understatement Activities
This lesson introduces students to understatements. This mini lesson is a vocabulary building exercise for upper elementary and middle school students.
In this mini lesson, students watch the video. The video goes over the definition and one example. Next students pause the video to complete either the digital or printable organizer. After completing the organizer, students continue watching the video to check their responses. This mini activity is a great introduction to an understatement lesson.
Activities in this free series are set up as individual lessons making them great to assign through Google Classroom. Click here to download the free activities from Google Drive. This is the digital version. Here you will find the printable version.
Want to Dig Deeper?
First, gather a collection of photographs. Unsplash is a great place for this. Next, show the photos, one at a time, on a SmartBoard or similar device. While viewing the photos, have students write understatements based on the events in the photos.
Expand the activity by writing both understatements and hyperboles.
Here are some examples.
It’s such a cold day. A freeze pop would hit the spot.
I could eat a million of these today.
Don’t worry. I have this all figured out.
My mom told me not to worry. I’m the smartest guy in the universe.
The pace in the city is relaxing.
The city was so crowded that it took me hours to go a few feet.
I climbed a small hill to see the view.
When I reached the mountain top, I could touch the stars.
It’s just a little paint.
There was so much paint covering Lisa that you could see her skin.
This website from Texas Gateway contains interactive exercises for students. In the lessons, students locate the hyperbole or understatement from sentences and paragraphs.