How to write Litotes
Litotes is generally a feature of idiomatic expressions, not a technique. So there’s no reason to practice writing it. When it needs to show up in your writing, it will do so naturally – we’re so used to hearing and using litotes in everyday speech that it requires no effort!
The difference between a normal sentence and one using litotes is that litotes is less direct. By negating the opposite of what you mean to say, you require the reader to go through an extra step before they can fully understand your meaning, which makes the writing seem less clear. That can be fine in creative writing and papers with a more informal, conversational tone; but it doesn’t tend to work in formal writing.
Normal Sentence: She was having a bad day.
With Litotes: She was not having the best day.
Normal Sentence: The French Revolution had a major in influence on philosophy.
With Litotes: The influence of the French Revolution on philosophy was not inconsiderable.
Normal Sentence: The committee was unenthusiastic about the proposal.
With Litotes: The committee was not particularly enthusiastic about the proposal.
When to use Litotes
In general, it’s best to avoid litotes in formal writing, as it carries a dry and slightly ironic tone that may come off as arrogant in an essay (though in informal writing it might seem witty). Rather than using litotes, just say what you have to say directly – use “good” instead of “not bad.” Similarly, it’s better to draw real comparisons rather than negating invalid ones as in the Jimi Hendrix example. This falls under the general heading of being clear, direct, and unambiguous in your formal writing: litotes is a somewhat roundabout way of getting your point across, which is not ideal (get it?) in formal writing.
However, in creative writing litotes can work perfectly well, especially in comedy or satire. Because litotes is a form of understatement, it can mimic the effect of a dry, deadpan standup comedian. Sentence with litotes are often very biting and sarcastic, which can be the perfect tone for satirical send-ups.