Cambridge dictionary says 'none too' means 'not very'. So, I am wondering when I should use none too? Is it commonly used or idiomatic?

For example, would you see any difference if I say:

  1. I am none too happy with it.

  2. I am not very happy with it.

  • "none too" is definitely not common. I'd always stick to "not very". Oct 22, 2017 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


Using "not very" is plain speech. Normally choose this.

Using "none too" is a rather rhetorical device. It is much less common than "not very", though it is perfectly correct and idiomatic. It's relative rarity makes it "marked" - a speaker using "none too" is making a choice not to use the plain form, for its effect, not for its meaning.

There is a sense of irony. Saying "I'm none too happy with it", suggests that I'm actually rather unhappy about it, but I'm making a dramatic understatement. There are subtleties here. This technique is called by its Greek name - litotes - in classical rhetoric.

But "not very" can have a similar effect. It is a more common form and the rhetorical effect is lessened

  • Isn't "not very" the same rhetorical device, only so commonplace that we don't think about it? Someone who says they are not very happy doesn't (generally) mean that they might be fairly happy (just not very).
    – rjpond
    Oct 22, 2017 at 19:12
  • Actually, I think you're right. Still, "none too" is marked as being a definite choice not to say "not very", and that makes it sound heightened, and perhaps more rhetorical.
    – James K
    Oct 22, 2017 at 19:50
  • @JamesK, Is none too commonly used? Is it idiomatic?
    – dan
    Oct 22, 2017 at 23:11

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