As part of my masters in linguistics, I am taking a course on the subject of irony. We were given examples of sentences that are most likely ironic, as the English sentence "he is not exceptionally smart" (which has the structure "he is not exceptionally X"). This does not mean literally that he is smart at an exceptional level, but rather, ironically, that he is very stupid.

Are there similar constructions in Italian, preferably ones that involve superlative and negation?

  • 8
    May point out that a litotes like that of your example is not, strictly speaking, irony. “He is not a genius” to mean “he is an idiot” is not irony (in the sense of “the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite”), because its meaning is actually true (according to the speaker), even if to a different degree; “he is a genius”, on the other hand, is. The same holds for some of the examples in the answers.
    – DaG
    Nov 10, 2013 at 22:31

4 Answers 4


There's plenty.

On the same lines of the example you cited, here some examples

Non proprio intelligentissimo
Non esattamente una decisione geniale
Un risultato non eccezionale

Or also


which, depending on the tone, can be sarcastic or not.

Bene ma non benissimo!

is also a very typical ironic sentence, meaning neither good nor very good, but rather pretty bad.

Generally speaking, whenever a litotes is used in conjunction with an hyperbole it's a good hint that the sentence may be ironic.

  • Bene ma non benissimo means well but not very well; there isn't an equivalent word for nor in Italian.
    – apaderno
    Nov 11, 2013 at 3:46
  • 2
    formatting matters. I mean that the phrase doesn't mean good nor it means very good, but it instead means pretty bad. Nov 11, 2013 at 4:02

It's worth to mention non è proprio una cima, a popular and sarcastic way to say he/she is quite an idiot.


Non è furbissimo can be used in the same sense as your example; or non è velocissimo for someone who's rather slow. Maybe adding proprio: non è proprio furbissimo, which is more explicit in denying the smartness of the person.


Following your example:
- To somebody who just spoke something very vulgar, you can ask "Oxford?" ("Did you go to Oxford?") [I swear we say it].
- About somebody who's not really good-looking, "Non è un Adone" ("He's not an Adonis")
- Not sure if this fits your requirements, it's a saying that originates from the game of briscola: if somebody's got no decisional power at all, you can say "Conta come il due di coppe quando comanda bastoni" (He's worth like the 2 of cups when the trump is clubs - that being among the lowest-power cards in the deck).

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