“I am so tired I cannot walk another inch” or “I’m so sleepy I might fall asleep standing here”.
The gushing brook stole its way down the lush green mountains, dotted with tiny flowers in a riot of colors and trees coming alive with gaily chirping birds.
The line from the famed poem Ancient Mariner, “We were the first that ever burst”.
In the much known and read Paradise Lost, Milton wrote:
“Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse. . .”
Writing a sentence such as, “Oh! What fine luck I have!”. The sentence on the surface conveys that the speaker is happy with their luck but actually what they mean is that they are extremely unhappy and dissatisfied with their (bad) luck.
In Paradise Lost, Milton has used juxtaposition to draw a parallel between the two protagonists, Satan and God, who he discusses by placing their traits in comparison with one another to highlight their differences.
Kennings are rare in modern day language. Here are a few examples from Beowulf:
Battle-sweat = blood
Sky-candle = sun
Whale-road = ocean
Light-of-battle = sword
In everyday conversations in the 21st century, one may hear expressions like:
“not the brightest bulb”
“not a beauty”
These are all examples of negative litotes that mean the opposite: “a dim bulb, or dumb,” “plain in appearance,” “good,” and “knows very well.” Perhaps our society is not trying to be humorous or sarcastic, but kinder?
Sometimes double negatives in literature, music and films create a litote that was not intended; for instance in the Rolling Stones hit “I Can't Get No Satisfaction,” actually means “I CAN receive satisfaction.”
Perhaps some best description litotes are found in the bible: take for instance, Jeremiah 30:19:
“I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.” Correctly interpreted, he is saying “there will be many and they will be great or large.”
In the play Much Ado About Nothing, noted playwright William Shakespeare’s character Dogberry says, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons." Instead, what the character means to say is “"Our watch, sir, have indeed apprehended two suspicious persons."
“Henry was a lion on the battlefield”. This sentence suggests that Henry fought so valiantly and bravely that he embodied all the personality traits we attribute to the ferocious animal. This sentence implies immediately that Henry was courageous and fearless, much like the King of the Jungle.