Commonly Confused Words: Overstated/Understated

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Can your main argument “not be overstated enough?” Or should that be understated?

Overstate (verb):

  • Overstate is a verb that means “to describe in an exaggerated way”: “Defendant overstates his claim that no court has ever granted this relief before.”
  • Can’t be Overstated: This phrase should be reserved for only the most important points, since it means that the point is so important that you can’t exaggerate the importance of it.

Understate (verb):

  • Understate is a verb that means “to describe in a way that minimizes the importance or relevance of something”: “Defendant understates the relevance of the Ninth Circuit’s most recently ruling—it governs the outcome of this case.”

Rule—Overstate/Understate: For EXAGGERATION use overstate; for MINIMIZATION use understate.

  • Mnemonic: If their emphasis is over-the-top, use overstate; if their emphasis attempts to conceal or keep something under wraps, use understate.

Since we can’t overstate the benefits of practice problems, here’s a few to try out!

20

1 / 10

1. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The claimant’s damages were overstated in the initial lawsuit.

2 / 10

2. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The company understated its liabilities in the financial statements

3 / 10

3. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The witness overstated his relationship with Defendant.

4 / 10

4. The underlined word is correct. The evidence understated the crime’s severity.

5 / 10

5. The underlined word is correct. The prosecution overstated the importance of the circumstantial evidence.

6 / 10

6. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The importance of free speech cannot be understated.

7 / 10

7. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The necessity of a non-partisan, independent judiciary cannot be overstated.

8 / 10

8. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The witness overstated her familiarity with the crime scene.

9 / 10

9. True/False: The underlined word is correct. The judge understated her potential conflicts of interest on the disclosure form.

10 / 10

10. The underlined word is correct. The dangers of the situation were vastly overstated by the hysterical parent.

Your score is

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