Definition and Examples of Irony (Figure of Speech)

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Irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. Similarly, irony may be a statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.

Adjective: ironic or ironical . Also known as  eironeia , illusio , and the dry mock .

The Three Kinds of Irony

Three kinds of irony are commonly recognized:

  • Verbal irony is a trope in which the intended meaning of a statement differs from the meaning that the words appear to express.
  • Situational irony involves an incongruity between what is expected or intended and what actually occurs.
  • Dramatic irony is an effect produced by a narrative in which the audience knows more about the present or future circumstances than a character in the story.

In light of these different varieties of irony, Jonathan Tittler has concluded that irony

"has meant and means so many different things to different people that rarely is there a meeting of minds as to its particular sense on a given occasion."

(Quoted by Frank Stringfellow in The Meaning of Irony , 1994.)

From the Greek, "feigned ignorance"


Irony in academics.

Academicians and others have explained irony in its various forms, including how to use it and how others have used it, as these quotes show.

D.C. Muecke

"Irony may be used as a rhetorical device to enforce one's meaning. It may be used . . . as a satiric device to attack a point of view or to expose folly, hypocrisy, or vanity. It may be used as a heuristic device to lead one's readers to see that things are not so simple or certain as they seem, or perhaps not so complex or doubtful as they seem. It is probable that most irony is rhetorical, satirical, or heuristic. ... "In the first place irony is a double-layered or two-story phenomenon. ... In the second place, there is always some kind of opposition that may take the form of contradiction, incongruity, or incompatibility. ... In the third place, there is in irony an element of 'innocence.'" — The Compass of Irony . Methuen, 1969

R. Kent Rasmussen

"David Wilson, the title character of Pudd'nhead Wilson , is a master of irony. In fact, his use of irony permanently marks him. When he first arrives in Dawson's Landing in 1830, he makes an ironic remark that the villagers cannot understand. Distracted by the annoying yelping of an unseen dog, he says, 'I wished I owned half of that dog.' When asked why, he replies, 'Because I would kill my half.' He does not really want to own half the dog, and he probably does not really want to kill it; he merely wants to silence it and knows killing half the dog would kill the whole animal and achieve the desired effect. His remark is a simple example of irony, and the failure of the villagers to understand it causes them immediately to brand Wilson a fool and nickname him 'pudd'nhead.' The very title of the novel is, therefore, based on irony, and that irony is compounded by the fact that Wilson is anything but a fool." — Bloom's How to Write About Mark Twain . Infobase, 2008

Bryan Garner

"A classic example of irony is Mark Antony's speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar . Although Antony declares, 'I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,' and declares that the assassins are 'honorable men,' he means just the opposite." — Garner's Modern American Usage . Oxford University Press, 2009

Barry Brummett

"It is sometimes said that we live in an age of irony. Irony in this sense may be found, for example, all throughout The Daily Show with Jon Stewart . Suppose you hear a political candidate give a terribly long speech, one that rambles on and on without end. Afterward, you might turn to a friend sitting next to you, roll your eyes, and say, 'Well, that was short and to the point, wasn't it?' You are being ironic. You are counting on your friend to turn the literal meaning of your expression, to read it as exactly the opposite of what your words actually mean. ... "When irony works, it helps to cement social bonds and mutual understanding because the speaker and hearer of irony both know to turn the utterance, and they know that the other one knows they will turn the utterance. ... "Irony is a kind of winking at each other, as we all understand the game of meaning reversal that is being played." — Techniques of Close Reading . Sage, 2010

"Irony has always been a primary tool the under-powered use to tear at the over-powered in our culture. But now irony has become the bait that media corporations use to appeal to educated consumers. ... It's almost an ultimate irony that those who say they don't like TV will sit and watch TV as long as the hosts of their favorite shows act like they don't like TV, either. Somewhere in this swirl of droll poses and pseudo-insights, irony itself becomes a kind of mass therapy for a politically confused culture. It offers a comfortable space where complicity doesn't feel like complicity. It makes you feel like you are counter-cultural while never requiring you to leave the mainstream culture it has so much fun teasing. We are happy enough with this therapy that we feel no need to enact social change." — Review of The Daily Show , 2001

Jon Winokur

"Alanis Morissette's 'Ironic,' in which situations purporting to be ironic are merely sad, random, or annoying (a traffic jam when you're late, a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break) perpetuates widespread misuse of the word and outrages irony prescriptivists . It is, of course, ironic that 'Ironic' is an unironic song about irony. Bonus irony: 'Ironic' is widely cited as an example of how Americans don't get irony, despite the fact that Alanis Morissette is Canadian." — The Big Book of Irony . St. Martin's, 2007

R. Jay Magill, Jr.

"Direct expression, with no tricks, gimmickry, or irony, has come to be interpreted ironically because the default interpretive apparatus says, 'He can't really mean THAT!' When a culture becomes ironic about itself en masse , simple statements of brutal fact, simple judgments of hate or dislike become humorous because they unveil the absurdity, 'friendliness,' and caution of normal public expression. It's funny because it's true. Honestly. We're all upside down now." — Chic Ironic Bitterness . University of Michigan Press, 2007

Irony in Popular Cultue

Irony also has a large presence in popular culture—books, movies, and television shows. These quotes show the concept in use in a variety of formats.

John Hall Wheelock

"A planet doesn't explode of itself," said drily The Martian astronomer, gazing off into the air— "That they were able to do it is proof that highly Intelligent beings must have been living there." — "Earth"

Raymond Huntley and Eliot Makeham

Kampenfeldt: This is a grave matter, a very grave matter. It has just been reported to me that you've been expressing sentiments hostile to the Fatherland. Schwab: What, me sir? Kampenfeldt: I warn you, Schwab, such treasonable conduct will lead you to a concentration camp. Schwab: But sir, what did I say? Kampenfeldt: You were distinctly heard to remark, "This is a fine country to live in." Schwab: Oh, no, sir. There's some mistake. No, what I said was, "This is a fine country to live in." Kampenfeldt: Huh? You sure? Schwab: Yes sir. Kampenfeldt: I see. Well, in future don't make remarks that can be taken two ways. — Night Train to Munich , 1940

Peter Sellers

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room." — As President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove, 1964

William Zinsser

"It is a fitting irony that under Richard Nixon, launder became a dirty word."

Alan Bennett

"We're conceived in irony. We float in it from the womb. It's the amniotic fluid. It's the silver sea. It's the waters at their priest-like task, washing away guilt and purpose and responsibility. Joking but not joking. Caring but not caring. Serious but not serious." — Hilary in The Old Country , 1977

Thomas Carlyle

"An ironic man, with his sly stillness, and ambuscading ways, more especially an ironic young man, from whom it is least expected, may be viewed as a pest to society." Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh , 1833-34


Rachel Berry: Mr. Schuester, do you have any idea how ridiculous it is to give the lead solo in "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" to a boy in a wheelchair? Artie Abrams: I think Mr. Schue is using irony to enhance the performance. Rachel Berry: There's nothing ironic about show choir! — Pilot episode, 2009


​ Woman: I started riding these trains in the '40s. Those days a man would give up his seat for a woman. Now we're liberated and we have to stand. Elaine: It's ironic. Woman: What's ironic? Elaine: This, that we've come all this way, we have made all this progress, but you know we've lost the little things, the niceties. Woman: No, I mean what does ironic mean? Elaine: Oh.​ — "The Subway," Jan. 8 1992

Sideshow Bob

"I'm aware of the irony of appearing on TV in order to decry it." — The Simpsons

Calvin Trillin

"Math was my worst subject because I could never persuade the teacher that my answers were meant ironically."

The Men Who Stare at Goats,

Lyn Cassady: It's okay, you can "attack" me. Bob Wilton: What's with the quotation fingers? It's like saying I'm only capable of ironic attacking or something.​ — 2009

Irony Deficiency

Irony deficiency  is an informal term for the inability to recognize, comprehend, and/or utilize irony—that is, a tendency to interpret  figurative language  in a literal way.

Jonah Goldberg

"Mobsters are reputedly huge fans of  The Godfather . They don’t see it as a tale of individual moral corruption. They see it as a nostalgia trip to better days for the mob." — "The Irony of Irony."  National Review , April 28, 1999

"Irony deficiency is directly proportional to the strength of the political commitment or religious fervor. True believers of all persuasions are irony deficient. ... "Brutal dictators are irony deficient—take Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, and Saddam Hussein, a world-class vulgarian whose art collection consisted of kitsch paintings displayed unironically." — The Big Book of Irony . Macmillan, 2007

Swami Beyondananda

"Here is something ironic: We live at a time when our diets are richer in irony than ever before in human history, yet millions of us suffer from that silent crippler, irony deficiency ... not so much a deficiency in irony itself, but an inability to utilize the abundance of irony all around us." — Duck Soup for the Soul . Hysteria, 1999

Roy Blount, Jr.

"Will people who detect a lack of irony in other cultures never stop to consider that this may be a sign of their own irony deficiency? Maybe it's defensible when the apes detect a lack of irony in Charlton Heston in  Planet of the Apes , but not when, say, Brits detect it in, say, Americans as a race . ... The point of irony, after all, is to say things behind people's backs to their faces. If you look around the poker table and can't tell who the pigeon is, it's you." — "How to Talk Southern."  The New York Times , Nov. 21, 2004

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Figure of Speech

Irony Examples: Figure of Speech For Students

admin February 28, 2019 Figures of Speech 5,261 Views

Irony Examples:

Ironical statements.

  • One of the identical twins says to the other, “You’re ugly!”
  • I saw a fish drowning.
  • Many things can be preserved in alcohol. Dignity is not one of them.
  • Never argue with a fool. People might not know the difference.
  • Marriage is the leading cause of divorce
  • I have been down so long, it looks like up to me.

Coincidental Ironies

  • Britain’s biggest dog was named Tiny.
  • Two marriage therapists got divorced from each other.
  • Most tobacco company executives don’t smoke.
  • Titanic, which was touted as “100% unsinkable”, sank on its maiden voyage.
  • The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive.
  • A ninety-eight year old man won the lottery and died the next day.
  • My friend, who is an incredibly successful artist and writer, often has dreams that are bland and dull.
  • A class on prophecy at a church was postponed due to some unforeseen circumstance
  • Do you know that fear for a long word is called Hippopotomonstrosesquippedalio phobia?
  • Hitler ‘s Grandmother was Jewish.
  • The only reason there are evil people in the world is because there are good people in the world.
  • A man died in his living room!
  • Canada is owned by Britain, yet half the people there speak French.
  • Coffee City is a city in Texas, mostly visited to buy beer.
  • My family owns a dairy, I work at a frozen yogurt shop and I just found out I’m lactose intolerant.
  • The world’s largest ice cream cone is made by a factory called ‘Tiny Dairies’!
  • The owner of a butcher shop is a vegetarian!
  • A restaurant called “Hard Times Cafe” has closed down because of the recession!
  • The water vendor died of thirst!
  • A restaurant with the name “Firewood Cafe” was actually on fire!
  • The dictionary entry for “short” is really, really long!
  • The only word that you spelled right in this spelling test is “illiterate”.
  • “Stand by your Man” is one of the biggest hit songs sung by Tammy Wynette’s who has been married six times in her real life.
  • Do you know that there is a song about the phobia of music?
  • The White House isn’t white.
  • I put on an outfit in the morning and didn’t like it, after spending an hour trying on other clothes, I ended up trying back on the same outfit I started with and wore it for the day.
  • A seminar on Global Warming was cancelled due to snow.
  • An obese teacher is teaching the class about healthy food or physical exercise!
  • A class on “planning and scheduling” was cancelled due to poor planning.
  • An atheist sues for religious discrimination

Situational Irony

  • Posting a video about how boring and useless Facebook is on Facebook.
  • My friend said he can’t go to church because he has a theology test to study for!
  • The firehouse burns down.
  • The police station was robbed.
  • The teacher failed the test.
  • The student who didn’t study passed the test.
  • The marriage counselor gets a divorce
  • “Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”
  • A girl was going on about how she wouldn’t hurt animals when I noticed she was wearing a leather belt.
  • He is a pilot but, is afraid of heights.

Irony Examples In Literature

  • “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honorable man” – Julius Caesar.
  • Romeo returns to Verona and he finds Juliet drugged, in a death-like sleep. He assumes she is dead and kills himself. When Juliet wakes up and finds him dead, she kills herself with his knife – Romeo and Juliet.
  • Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 is consistently on the top 100 list of banned books in the US .

Ironical News

  • Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, the self-styled “eternal revolutionary”, who took power in a coup 42 years ago, is himself being deposed in a revolution.
  • A Harvard University fellow, who was studying ethics, was charged with hacking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer network to steal nearly 5 million academic articles.

Being a part of speech used on a regular basis, ironies are familiar to many of us. Of course, we never look into whether the usage is correct or not, but it is always better to learn about the different kinds of ironies and their usages. It is very important as there are chances that sometimes you may even get confused with much similar concept of sarcasm. Though both irony and sarcasm appear to be overlapping, both of them are totally different concepts. Hope the examples given in this article helped you to understand the concept ‘irony’ better.

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Irony Definition

What is irony? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

Irony is a literary device or event in which how things seem to be is in fact very different from how they actually are. If this seems like a loose definition, don't worry—it is. Irony is a broad term that encompasses three different types of irony, each with their own specific definition:  verbal irony ,  dramatic irony , and  situational irony . Most of the time when people use the word irony, they're actually referring to one of these specific types of irony.

Some additional key details about irony:

  • The term "irony" comes from the ancient Greek comic character called the "eiron," who pretends ignorance in order to deceive an opponent. 
  • Irony overlaps with, but is not identical to, sarcasm and satire . 
  • In the last twenty years or so, the term "ironic" has become popular to describe an attitude of detachment or subversive humor, like that of someone who wears a Christmas sweater as a joke. This more recent meaning of ironic is not entirely consistent with the original meaning of irony (a fact which itself might be described as being somewhat ironic). 

Irony Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce irony: eye -run-ee

Irony in Depth

The term "irony" usually refers to three particular types of irony:

  • Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. For example, if someone has a painful visit to the dentist and when it's over says, "Well, that was pleasant," they are using verbal irony because the intended meaning of their words (that it  wasn't at all  pleasant) is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words. Verbal irony is the most common form of irony. In fact it is so common that when people mention "irony," they often are actually referring to verbal irony. 
  • Dramatic irony  Is a plot device that highlights the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the audience. When the audience watching a movie know what's behind that door, but the character in the movie has no idea... that's dramatic irony. 
  • Situational irony  refers to an unexpected, paradoxical, or perverse turn of events. It is an example of situational irony when, in the O. Henry story " The Gift of the Magi ," a young wife cuts off her hair in order to buy her husband a chain for his prized watch, but the husband sells his watch to buy his wife a comb for her beautiful hair. 

Although these three kinds of irony may seem very different at first glance, they all share one important quality: a tension between how things appear and how they really are. For a more in-depth look at each of these devices, please visit their individual pages.

Also, it's worth knowing that sometimes instances of irony don't quite fit into any of these categories, and instead align with the more general definition of irony as something that seems to be one way, but is in fact another way. Put more broadly: sometimes irony is verbal irony, sometimes it's dramatic irony, sometimes it's situational irony, and sometimes it's just irony. 

Irony, Sarcasm, and Satire

Besides the three main types of irony described above, two other literary devices—sarcasm and satire—share a lot in common with irony:

  • Sarcasm is a bitter, cutting, or mocking taunt used to denigrate a particular person, place, or thing. It can sometimes take the form of verbal irony. For instance, if you were to say to someone who had just cut you in line, "What a polite, civilized person you are!" that would be sarcasm in the form of irony, since your meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of your words. Sarcasm very often involves irony. However, it doesn't always have to use irony. For instance, when Groucho Marx says "i never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception," he is being sarcastic, but his words, however witty they are, mean exactly what they say. 
  • Satire is a form of social or political critique. Like sarcasm, it often makes use of irony, but it isn't always ironic.

You can get more details on both sarcasm and satire at their specific pages.

Irony Examples

All three forms of irony are used very frequently in literature, theater, and film. In addition, sometimes the irony found in any of these mediums is broader and doesn't fit into any of the specific categories, and is instead just general irony. 

Irony in "The Sell Out"

" The Sell Out " by Simon Rich is a short story recently published in the New Yorker that is full of irony. The story is narrated by a Polish Jew named Herschel, who lives in Brooklyn in the early twentieth century. Herschel accidentally preserves himself in brine for one hundred years, and when he is finally discovered, still alive, in 2017, he is introduced to his great-great-grandson, a young man who lives in present-day Brooklyn. On Herschel's first day, the great-great-grandson Simon tells Herschel about computers. Herschel describes the scene (note that Hershel's English isn't all that great):

It takes him long time, but eventually Simon is able to explain. A computer is a magical box that provides endless pleasure for free. Simon is used to constant access to this box—a never-ending flow of pleasures. When the box stops working—or even just briefly slows down—he becomes so enraged that he curses our God, the one who gave us life and brought us forth from Egypt.

This description is a great example of irony in the most general sense. The humor stems from the disparity between what seems to be true to Herschel (that computers are magic pleasure boxes) and what is actually true (that computers are, well, computers, and that people are kind of stupidly addicted to them). The use of irony is effective here because Hershel's description, as outlandish as it is, actually points to something that is  true about the way people use computers. Therefore, the disparity between "what is" and "what appears to be" to Herschel isn't merely a comical error; rather, it's ironic because it actually points to a greater truth about its subject.

Verbal Irony in Don Quixote

One famously ironic work is Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote .   At one point, the book's narrator states: 

… historians should and must be precise, truthful and unprejudiced, without allowing self-interest or fear, hostility or affection, to turn them away from the path of truth, whose mother is history.

We can identify the above quotation as an example of verbal irony if we consider that the book's hero, Don Quixote, is fundamentally incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction, and any historian of his life would have to follow a double track of reality and fantasy which continuously overlaps, tangles, and flips. One of the most basic premises of the book is that truth is more difficult to identify than it may seem. Therefore, when the narrator vows to follow the single path of truth, he is being ironic; in reality, he believes this to be impossible. 

Dramatic Irony in Othello

The device of dramatic irony is especially well-suited to the theater, which displays constantly shifting sets, scenes, and characters to a stationary audience that, therefore, often has a more complete or "omniscient" perspective compared to any of the characters. One excellent example of dramatic irony can be found in Shakespeare's  Othello . 

Through the play, the audience watches as Iago plots against his commander Othello, and seeks to make Othello believe that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful to him. The audience watches as Iago plots to himself and with others. Sometimes Iago even directly reveals his plans to the audience. Meanwhile, Othello continues to trust Iago, and the audience watches as the the plan they know that Iago is pursuing slowly plays out just as he intended, and Othello eventually murders the entirely innocent Desdemona. The way that the play makes the audience aware of Iago's plot, even as Othello is not, means that the play is full of dramatic irony almost for its entire length. 

Situational Irony in The Producers

In this classic film, two friends come up with a complicated money-making scheme in which they put on a play that they think is absolutely certain to fail. Their plan backfires when the play, entitled "Springtime for Hitler," is so shockingly bad that people think it's a comedy and come to see it in droves. This is an example of situational irony because the outcome is the exact opposite of what the play's producers expected.

Why Do Writers Use Irony?

Irony is a tool that can be used for many different purposes. Though sarcasm and satire are two ways of using irony that are primarily negative and critical, ironic statements can also underscore the fragility, complexity, and beauty of human experience.

  • Situational irony often demonstrates how human beings are always at the mercy of an unpredictable universe—and that life can always take an unexpected turn.
  • Dramatic irony emphasizes that human knowledge is always partial and often incorrect, while giving the reader or viewer the satisfaction of a more complete understanding than that of the characters.
  • In dialogue, verbal irony can display one character's sparkling wit, and another character's thickheadedness. Verbal irony can also create a connection between people who  get  the irony, excluding those who don't.

Ultimately, irony is used to create meaning—whether it's humorous or profound—out of the gap between the way things appear and how they actually are.

Other Helpful Irony Resources

  • The Wikipedia page on irony : A helpful overview.
  • The dictionary definition of irony : A basic definition, with a bit on the etymology.
  • The comedian George Carlin explaining the difference  between situational irony and mere coincidence.
  • A site with a helpful index of examples of different types of irony in television, film, video games, and other media.

The printed PDF version of the LitCharts literary term guide on Irony

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Literary Devices

Literary devices, terms, and elements, definition of irony.

As a literary device, irony is a contrast or incongruity between expectations for a situation and what is reality. This can be a difference between the surface meaning of something that is said and the underlying meaning. It can also be a difference between what might be expected to happen and what actually occurs. The definition of irony can further be divided into three main types: verbal, dramatic, and situational. We describe these types in detail below.

The word “irony” comes from the Greek character Eiron, who was an underdog and used his wit to overcome a stronger character. The Greek word eironeía derived from this character and came to mean “dissimulation” or “purposely affected ignorance.” The word then entered Latin as ironia, and eventually became common as a figure of speech in English in the 16th century.

Irony is sometimes confused with events that are just unfortunate coincidences. For example, Alanis Morrissette’s song “Ironic” contains many events that are not ironic in any sense. She cites “rain on your wedding day” and “a traffic jam when you’re already late” as ironic situations, yet these are merely bad luck.

Types of Irony

Verbal irony.

Verbal irony takes place when the speaker says something in sharp contrast to his or her actual meaning. The speaker often makes a statement that seems very direct, yet indicates that the opposite is in fact true, or what the speaker really means. Looking at Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” again, the one true instance of irony comes when the man whose plane is going down says, “Well, isn’t this nice.” Clearly, the plane crash is anything but nice, and thus this utterance conveys the opposite of the man’s true feelings. Unlike dramatic and situational irony , verbal irony is always intentional on the part of the speaker.

Verbal irony can also consist of “ironic similes”, which are comparisons in which the two things are not alike at all. For example, “as soft as sandpaper” or “as warm as ice.” These similes mean that the thing in question is actually not soft or warm at all. The author Daniel Handler (who writes with the pen name Lemony Snicket) takes ironic similes to an extreme by qualifying them so they actually become real comparisons. For example: “Today was a very cold and bitter day, as cold and bitter as a cup of hot chocolate, if the cup of hot chocolate had vinegar added to it and were placed in a refrigerator for several hours.”

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience has more information than one or more characters in a work of literature. This literary device originated in Greek tragedy and often leads to tragic outcomes. For example, in Shakespeare’s Othello, the audience is aware that Othello’s best friend Iago is villainous and attempting to bring Othello down. The audience is also aware that Desdemona has been faithful, though Othello doesn’t know this. The audience can foresee the imminent disaster.

There are three stages of dramatic irony: installation, exploitation, and resolution. In the case of Othello, the installation is when Iago persuades Othello to suspect that Desdemona is having an affair with a man named Cassio. Iago then exploits the situation by planting Desdemona’s handkerchief, a gift from Othello, in Cassio’s room. The resolution is only after Othello has murdered Desdemona when her friend Emilia reveals Iago’s scheme.

Situational Irony

Situational irony consists of a situation in which the outcome is very different from what was expected. There are contradictions and contrasts present in cases of situational irony. For example, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the citizens of the Emerald City assume that Oz is great and all-powerful, yet the man behind the curtain is revealed to be an old man with no special powers.

Other types of irony:

  • Cosmic Irony : Cosmic irony, also known as “irony of fate”, is present in stories that contain gods who have different agendas than humans. These gods, or the Fates, may play with the lives of humans for their own amusement. The irony lies in contrast between what the humans expect and what actually happens. Though this is most common in Greek legends, it is also present in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles where the immortals play with Tess’s life.
  • Historical Irony : Historical irony relates to real events that happened that, when seen in retrospect, had vastly different outcomes than predicted at the time. For example, Chinese alchemists discovered gunpowder when looking for a way to create immortality. The result of their discovery was the opposite of what they were looking for.
  • Socratic Irony : The philosopher Socrates would pretend to be ignorant about the topic under debate to draw out the nonsensical arguments of his opponent. This is particularly evident in the Platonic dialogues. This technique is an example of dramatic irony because Socrates pretended to have less information than he really did.

Difference between Irony and Sarcasm

Though there are many similarities between verbal irony and sarcasm , they are not equivalent. However, there are many dissenting opinions about how, exactly, they are different. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica simply explains that sarcasm is non-literary irony. Others have argued that while someone employing verbal irony says the opposite of what that person means, sarcasm is direct speech that is aggressive humor. For example, when Winston Churchill told Bessie Braddock that “I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly,” he was being sarcastic and not employing any irony.

Common Examples of Irony

  • Verbal irony : “What a pleasant day” (when it is raining heavily)
  • Situational irony : Referring to WWI as “the war to end all wars”
  • Situational irony : In 1925 when the New York Times declared that the crossword puzzle was a craze that was “dying out fast”
  • Dramatic irony : The movie “The Truman Show”, where only Truman doesn’t know that he’s being filmed at all times

Examples of Irony in Literature

Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

In this famous love story the audience can foresee the tragic ending long before Romeo and Juliet themselves know what’s going to happen. At the end of the play, Romeo finds Juliet and believes her to be dead though the audience knows she’s taken a sleeping potion. Romeo kills himself with this false knowledge. Juliet then wakes up and, finding Romeo truly dead, kills herself as well. This irony example is one of dramatic irony as the audience has more information than the characters.

MARK ANTONY: But Brutus says he was ambitious; / And Brutus is an honourable man.

( Julius Caesar by Shakespeare)

In this quote from Julius Caesar, Mark Antony is seemingly praising Brutus after the assassination of Julius Caesar. However, this example of irony is one of verbal irony, since Mark Antony is in fact implying that Brutus is neither ambitious nor honorable.

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

In this short story, a young, poor couple struggle with what to buy each other for Christmas. The woman cuts her hair and sells it to buy a watchband for her husband. Meanwhile, the husband sells his watch face to buy combs for his wife’s hair. This is an example of situational irony, since the outcome is the opposite of what both parties expect.

“The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen

In this short story, and later in the Disney adaptation, a mermaid falls in love with a prince and saves him from drowning. Desperate to be with him, the mermaid makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her voice for human legs. Though the prince is charmed by the mermaid he doesn’t realize who she really is because she no longer has a voice. This is an example of dramatic irony where the audience has more information than the prince.

Test Your Knowledge of Irony

1. Choose the best irony definition: A. An unfortunate coincidence in which the worst possible ending comes to pass. B. A contrast between expectations for what is going to happen and what actually does happen. C. A biting comment meant to be both humorous and true.

2. Is the following an example of situational, dramatic, or verbal irony?

In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus kills his own father without realizing that the man is actually his father. This act brings on a plague and Oedipus swears that he will murder the man responsible, not knowing that he himself is responsible.

A. Dramatic irony B. Situational irony C. Verbal irony

3. American President John F. Kennedy’s final reported conversation was with a woman who announced, “Mr. President, you can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you.” JFK agreed, “That’s very obvious.” Why is this an example of irony?

A. The event was very tragic, and thus it was ironic. B. JFK was aware that he was in danger, and thus employed verbal irony when he asserted that Dallas must love him, knowing this wasn’t the case. C. In retrospect, this conversation was ironic because the outcome of the situation was completely at odds with what anyone would have expected to happen.

Definition of Irony

Irony is a literary device in which contradictory statements or situations reveal a reality that is different from what appears to be true. There are many forms of irony featured in literature. The effectiveness of irony as a literary device depends on the reader’s expectations and understanding of the disparity between what “should” happen and what “actually” happens in a literary work. This can be in the form of an unforeseen outcome of an event, a character ’s unanticipated behavior, or something incongruous that is said.

One of the most famous examples of irony in literature comes from The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. In this story , a newly married couple decides independently to sacrifice and sell what means most to themselves in order to purchase a Christmas gift for the other. Unfortunately, the gifts they receive from each other are intended for the very prized possessions they both sold. As a result, though their sacrifices symbolize the love they have for each other, the actual gifts they receive are all but useless.

Common Examples of Irony

Many common phrases and situations reflect irony. Irony often stems from an unanticipated response ( verbal irony ) or an unexpected outcome ( situational irony ). Here are some common examples of verbal and situational irony:

  • Verbal Irony
  • Telling a quiet group, “don’t speak all at once”
  • Coming home to a big mess and saying, “it’s great to be back”
  • Telling a rude customer to “have a nice day”
  • Walking into an empty theater and asking, “it’s too crowded”
  • Stating during a thunderstorm, “beautiful weather we’re having”
  • An authority figure stepping into the room saying, “don’t bother to stand or anything”
  • A comedian telling an unresponsive audience , “you all are a great crowd”
  • Describing someone who says foolish things as a “genius”
  • Delivering bad news by saying, “the good news is”
  • Entering a child’s messy room and saying “nice place you have here”
  • Situational Irony
  • A fire station that burns down
  • Winner of a spelling bee failing a spelling test
  • A t-shirt with a “Buy American” logo that is made in China
  • Marriage counselor divorcing the third wife
  • Sending a Christmas card to someone who is Jewish
  • Leaving a car wash at the beginning of a downpour
  • A dentist needing a root canal
  • Going on a blind date with someone who is visually impaired
  • A police station being burglarized
  • Purchasing a roll of stamps a day before the price to send a letter increases

Examples of Irony in Plot

Irony is extremely useful as a plot device. Readers or viewers of a plot that includes irony often call this effect a “twist.” Here are some examples of irony in well-known plots:

  • The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum): the characters already have what they are asking for from the wizard
  • Time Enough at Last (episode of “The Twilight Zone”): the main character, who yearns to be left alone to read, survives an apocalyptic explosion but breaks his reading glasses
  • Oedipus Rex (Sophocles): Oedipus is searching for a murderer who, it turns out, is himself
  • The Cask of Amontillado ( Edgar Allan Poe ): the character “Fortunato” meets with a very unfortunate fate
  • Hansel and Gretel (Grimm fairy tale ): the witch, who intended to eat Hansel ad Gretel, is trapped by the children in her own oven

Real Life Examples of Irony

Think you haven’t heard of any examples of irony in real life? Here are some instances of irony that have taken place:

  • It is reported that Lady Nancy Astor once said to Winston Churchill that if he were her husband, she would poison his tea. In response, Churchill allegedly said, “Madam, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
  • Sweden’s Icehotel, built of snow and ice, contains fire alarms.
  • Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the official name for fear of long words
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is considered an anti-censorship novel , and it is one of the most consistently banned books in the United States.
  • A retired CEO of the Crayola company suffered from colorblindness.
  • Many people claimed and/or believed that the Titanic was an “unsinkable” ship.
  • There is a hangover remedy entitled “hair of the dog that bit you” that involves consuming more alcohol.
  • George H.W. Bush reportedly stated, “I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them.”

Difference Between Verbal Irony, Dramatic Irony, and Situational Irony

Though there are many forms of irony as a literary device, its three main forms are verbal, dramatic, and situational. Verbal irony sets forth a contrast between what is literally said and what is actually meant. In dramatic irony , the state of the action or what is happening as far as what the reader or viewer knows is the reverse of what the players or characters suppose it to be. Situational irony refers to circumstances that turn out to be the reverse of what is expected or considered appropriate.

Essentially, verbal and situational irony are each a violation of a reader’s expectations and conventional knowledge. When it comes to verbal irony, the reader may be expecting a character’s statement or response to be one thing though it turns out to be the opposite. For situational irony, the reader may anticipate an event’s outcome in one way though it turns out to happen in a completely different way.

Dramatic Irony is more of a vicarious violation of expectations or knowledge. In other words, the reader/audience is aware of pertinent information or circumstances of which the actual characters are not. Therefore, the reader is left in suspense or conflict until the situation or information is revealed to the characters involved. For example, a reader may be aware of a superhero’s true identity whereas other characters may not know that information. Dramatic irony allows a reader the advantage of knowing or understanding something that a particular character or group of characters does not.

Writing Irony

Overall, as a literary device, irony functions as a means of portraying a contrast or discrepancy between appearance and reality. This is effective for readers in that irony can create humor and suspense, as well as showcase character flaws or highlight central themes in a literary work.

It’s essential that writers bear in mind that their audience must have an understanding of the discrepancy between appearance and reality in their work. Otherwise, the sense of irony is lost and ineffective. Therefore, it’s best to be aware of the reader or viewer’s expectations of reality in order to create an entirely different and unexpected outcome.

Here are some ways that writers benefit from incorporating irony into their work:

Plot Device

Irony in various forms is a powerful plot device. Unexpected events or character behaviors can create suspense for readers, heighten the humor in a literary work, or leave a larger impression on an audience. As a plot device, irony allows readers to re-evaluate their knowledge, expectations, and understanding. Therefore, writers can call attention to themes in their work while simultaneously catching their readers off-guard.

Method of Reveal

As a literary device, irony does not only reveals unexpected events or plot twists . It serves to showcase disparity in the behavior of characters, making them far more complex and realistic. Irony can also reveal preconceptions on the part of an audience by challenging their assumptions and expectations. In this sense, it is an effective device for writers.

Difference Between Irony and Sarcasm

Although irony encapsulates several things including situations, expressions, and actions, sarcasm only involves the use of language that is in the shape of comments. Whereas irony could be non-insulting for people, sarcasm essentially means ridiculing somebody or even insulting somebody. Therefore, it is fair to state that although sarcasm could be a part of an element of irony, the irony is a broad term, encompassing several items or ingredients of other devices in it.

Use of Irony in Sentences

  • A traffic cop gets suspended for not paying his parking tickets.
  • “Father of Traffic Safety” William Eno invented the stop sign, crosswalk, traffic circle, one-way street, and taxi stand—but never learned how to drive.
  • Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone but refused to keep one in his study. He feared it would distract him from his work.
  • Alan has been a marriage counselor for 10 years and he’s just filing for divorce.
  • Oh, fantastic! Now I cannot attend the party I had been waiting for 3 months.

Examples of Irony in Literature

Irony is a very effective literary device as it adds to the significance of well-known literary works. Here are some examples of irony:

Example 1:  The Necklace (Guy de Maupassant)

“You say that you bought a necklace of diamonds to replace mine?” “Yes. You never noticed it, then! They were very like.” And she smiled with a joy which was proud and naïve at once. Mme. Forestier, strongly moved, took her two hands. “Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste. It was worth at most five hundred francs!”

In his short story , de Maupassant utilizes situational irony to reveal an unexpected outcome for the main character Mathilde who borrowed what she believed to be a diamond necklace from her friend Mme. Forestier to wear to a ball. Due to vanity and carelessness, Mathilde loses the necklace. Rather than confess this loss to her friend, Mathilde and her husband replace the necklace with another and thereby incur a debt that takes them ten years of labor to repay.

In a chance meeting, Mathilde learns from her friend that the original necklace was fake. This outcome is ironic in the sense that Mathilde has become the opposite of the woman she wished to be and Mme. Forestier is in possession of a real diamond necklace rather than a false one. This ending may cause the reader to reflect on the story’s central themes, including pride, authenticity, and the price of vanity.

Example 2:  Not Waving but Drowning  (Stevie Smith)

Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning: I was much further out than you thought And not waving but drowning .

Example 3:  A Modest Proposal (Jonathan Swift)

A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter .

Swift makes use of verbal irony in his essay in which he advocates eating children as a means of solving the issue of famine and poverty . Of course, Swift does not literally mean what he is saying. Instead, his verbal irony is used to showcase the dire situation faced by those who are impoverished and their limited resources or solutions. In addition, this irony is meant as a call to action among those who are not suffering from hunger and poverty to act in a charitable way towards those less fortunate.

Example 4: 1984 by George Orwell

War is Peace ; Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength .

There are several types of irony involved in the novel, 1984 , by George Orwell . The very first example is the slogan given at the beginning of the novel. This slogan is “ War is Peace ; Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.” Almost every abstract idea is given beside or parallels to the idea that is contrary to it. These oxymoronic statements show the irony latent in them that although Oceania is at war, yet it is stressing the need for peace and the same is the case with others that although all are slaves of the state, they are calling it freedom. This is verbal irony.

Another example is that of situational irony. It is in the relationship of Winston and Julia that he secretly cherishes to have sexual advances toward her but outwardly hates her. When Julia finds that the place where it must be shunned, Junior Anti-Sex League, is the best place for such actions to do in hiding, it becomes a situational irony.

Synonyms of Irony

Some of the most known synonyms of irony are sarcasm, sardonicism, bitterness, cynicism, mockery, ridicule, derision, scorn, sneering, wryness, or backhandedness.

Related posts:

  • Dramatic Irony
  • 10 Examples of Irony in Shakespeare
  • 15 Irony Examples in Disney Movies
  • 11 Examples of Irony in Children’s Literature
  • 12 Thought Provoking Examples of Irony in History
  • Romeo and Juliet Dramatic Irony
  • Brevity is the Soul of Wit
  • To Thine Own Self Be True
  • Frailty, Thy Name is Woman
  • My Kingdom for a Horse
  • Lady Doth Protest too Much
  • The Quality of Mercy is Not Strain’d
  • Ignorance is Strength

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Posted on Sep 02, 2022

Verbal Irony: 9 Examples that Will Make You Smirk

Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the literal meaning of what someone is saying is different from what they really mean. For example, someone saying “Just what I needed”, after spilling coffee on their shirt on the way to an important meeting. It is often used to make a point or to express sarcasm, both in literature and in everyday conversation. It can also be used to bring humor to a situation, foreshadow events, or express frustration. 

For a better grasp of this type of humor, here are some examples of verbal irony from popular culture: 

“Your stunned silence is very reassuring” — Monsters, Inc

Roz (flatly): Hello Wazowski. Fun filled evening plans for tonight? Mike Wazowski: Well, as a matter of fact — Roz: — and I’m sure you filed your paperwork correctly. For once. (pause) Roz: Your stunned silence is very reassuring.

In Monsters Inc, scare assistant Mike Wazowski tries to leave work without dropping off his paperwork for the day. Unfortunately for Mike, this involves slipping past Roz, the intimidating administrator of ‘Scare Floor F.’ Her dry and deadpan line of questioning, which drips with irony,  immediately establishes her place within the company as a terrifying authority figure who terrifies Mike. Of course, Mike’s instincts aren’t too far off, as Roz later reveals herself to be more than meets the eye(!).

Roz, a slug-like-administrator, staring icily

“And Brutus is an honourable man” — Julius Caesar

“Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest– For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men– Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral. He was my friend, faithful and just to me: But Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man.”

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar , Caesar has just been murdered by a band of conspirators that includes his ally, Marcus Brutus. Brutus makes an appeal to the people of Rome to justify the killing — saying that his cohorts were, in fact, protecting Rome from Caesar’s ambitions. Brutus briefly wins the crowd’s support until Caesar’s close friend, Mark Anthony, stands to make his famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech.

In his address, Mark Anthony repeatedly calls the conspirators “honourable men” — the irony of which is not lost on the crowd. He singles out Brutus’s justification that Caesar was “ambitious” — and hits home just how weak a reason this was to kill a man. But who are we to argue with Brutus? After all, he is an “honourable man.” But Mark Anthony’s ironic implications are enough to turn the tide of support.

Which famous author do you write like?

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“Say Yes to Knope!” — Parks and Recreation

Campaign promo from Leslie Knope's election run -- placard reads" Yes we can't not Knope"

"Yes we can’t not. Knope."

Fiction is packed full of people whose names are the polar opposites of their characters — an irony that often serves to highlight that particular trait. In Parks and Recreation, the city’s irrepressibly positive parks administrator is curiously named Leslie Knope (pronounced ‘nope’). This contradiction was strategically deployed for laughs over the show’s seven seasons, culminating in a real-world billboard for Leslie’s campaign: “KNOPE WE CAN IN 2012”.

Other characters with ironic names include the man-mountain Little John from Robin Hood, Waiting for Godot ’s beleaguered slave character (called "Lucky"), and the perpetually ill and lethargic Captain Keene in the Hornblowers series.

"The dead man very considerately got up...” — The Sign of the Four

“What do you think of this, Holmes? Sholto was, on his own confession, with his brother last night. The brother died in a fit, on which Sholto walked off with the treasure. How's that?" "On which the dead man very considerately got up and locked the door on the inside." "Hum! There's a flaw there.”

The most accomplished forensic mind of the Victorian age, Sherlock Holmes is not known for his patience with lesser detectives. When police inspector Athenley Jones overlooks a key detail in examining a crime scene, Holmes resorts to a quick barb to set Jones straight. This use of verbal irony in The Sign of the Four (where he supposes that a dead man has locked a room from the inside) not only reveals Holmes’s cutting demeanor — but also nods his signature use of deductive reasoning: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” And in this particular case, as in real life, walking corpses are still in the realm of the impossible.

📚 Sound like something you want to read more of? Check out our comprehensive guide to the Sherlock Holmes books .

“It’s so good to see you too!” — She’s the Man

Amanda Bynes, dressed as her own brother, clutching a soccer ball

Monique: (running up behind Viola) Sebastian! Monique whips Viola around, by pulling on her loose-fitting sport jacket. Monique: Ew, it’s you. God, you and your brother look scary alike from the back. I think it’s your total lack of curves Viola: Hi Monique, it’s so good to see you too!

When your brother’s girlfriend accidentally mistakes you for him, you’d think she’d apologize or something — instead of adding insult to injury. Well, when this happens to the heroine of She’s The Man (a modern spin on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night ), Viola cuts back at her brother’s vapid girlfriend with a thickly sarcastic, “it’s so good to see you too.” This response reveals a lot about Viola's confident, sassy personality.

In another twist of irony, Monique’s insult gives Viola a solution to her biggest problem: she’s going to pose as a boy so she can join the school soccer team!

“A stranger to one of your parents” — Pride and Prejudice

Mr Bennet smiling in the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” 

Lizzie Bennet, of Austen's Pride and Prejudice , finds herself in a tough spot. Her mother wishes for her to marry the insipid Mr. Collins — the heir to her family home — thereby securing the Bennet clan’s future. For the independent and intelligent Lizzie, this future seems as inevitable as it is horrible — until her father finally pipes up.

While he usually leaves all decisions of society and marriage to his over-enthusiastic wife, Mr. Bennett finally decides to speak up against this marital arrangement. While, at face value, Mr. Bennett’s ultimatum makes it sound like he just doesn’t want to spend more time with Mr. Collins than necessary, the reader understands this to be his way of showing support and affection for his favorite daughter.

“And that has made all the difference” – The Road Not Taken

"I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

We often needlessly sweat over the tiny choices in life: this is the point ultimately made by the narrator of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” a poem commonly misread as a celebration of individualism and the adventurous spirit. Oh, the irony!

Faced with a choice between two diverging roads, our hero seems proud that he took the road ‘less traveled by.' He soon realizes that it was pretty much the same once he’d trod through it. In the final stanza, he imagines himself telling others that this choice has ‘made all the difference’ —  but his sigh lets us know otherwise! While the path you choose (or the choices you make) might slightly change the journey, in the end, will it have made a difference at all?

“Some animals are more equal than others.” – Animal Farm

"There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:  ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters." 

The pigs in George Orwell's  Animal Farm set out with pure intentions to create an egalitarian society amongst the barnyard animals. However, they slowly grew power hungry and ironically ended up establishing a dictatorship even worse than the former humans who ruled them. While the statement starts by saying ‘all animals are equal,' it goes on to say that ‘some are more equal than others,’ defeating the entire premise laid down in the first part of the statement. This highlights the hypocrisy of the pigs, whose previously secret disdain for other animals is now writ large. 

“Vintage, so adorable.” – Mean Girls

Scene from Mean Girls movie, showing Lea Edwards in a plaid skirt

Regina:  Oh my God, I love your skirt! Where did you get it? Lea Edwards: It was my mom's in the '80s. Regina: Vintage, so adorable. Lea Edwards: Thanks!  (Lea leaves) Regina (quietly, to Cady): That is the ugliest effing skirt I've ever seen.

In line with her status as Queen Bee, Regina George gives another girl the ultimate stamp of approval by telling her, apropos of nothing, that she loves her skirt. However, she doesn’t mean one word of her compliment — this secretly sarcastic comment was a status play designed to show new girl Cady Heron the power and influence she wields at this high school.

Ready for more irony? Well, buckle up and check out our next post, which digs up a delicious serving of situational irony .

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  • English Grammar
  • Figures Of Speech

Irony - Definition, Types, Uses and Examples

Learning the figures of speech can help you make your writing a lot more interesting and descriptive. In this article, you will be introduced to the meaning and definition of irony, how it is formed and how it can be used. Also, check out the examples given for a clear idea of how irony works.

Table of Contents

What is irony – meaning and definition, the different types of irony, why use irony, some common examples of irony from literature, some examples of irony from movies and tv series, frequently asked questions on irony.

Irony is a rhetorical device that is used to express an intended meaning by using language that conveys the opposite meaning when taken literally. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the term ‘irony’ as “the use of words that say the opposite of what you really mean, often as a joke and with a tone of voice that shows this”.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, irony is defined as “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning”, and according to the Collins Dictionary, irony is “a subtle form of humour which involves saying things that you do not mean”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines irony as “the use of words that are the opposite of what you mean, as a way of being funny”.

Did you know that there are various types of irony? Well, if you did, great job! Those who did not know, here is a chance to learn what they are and the ways in which they can be used.

There are three main types of irony that can be employed when you are writing a short story, a play, an anecdote or even a novel. Take a look at each of the following.

  • Dramatic irony is the type in which one or more characters in a story or a play is given no idea of a very important piece of information that would alter their lives and also change the course of the plot completely. Dramatic irony keeps the readers excited and sustains the interest in the happenings of the story. It lets the audience have sympathy for the characters in the story, instils fear in them and builds suspense. In simple terms, when dramatic irony is employed, the audience knows something that the characters have not yet found out or understood. William Shakespeare is known widely for the use of dramatic irony in most of his tragic plays. Christopher Marlowe, Jane Austen, Jonathan Swift and Thomas Hardy are some of the writers who made effective use of dramatic irony in their writings.
  • Situational irony is the one in which the events in the story or play give the readers a result that is different from what they had been expecting to occur. This type of irony puts the protagonist of the story/play in a situation that demands a heavy price in order to get to their goal. It also aids in creating a ‘twist’. Who doesn’t like a good twist, right? This situation would push the character to a whole new level. It can also be used to communicate an intended message or moral to the audience. O. Henry, Kate Chopin, Christopher Marlowe, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Guy de Maupassant are some of the writers who made good use of situational irony in their works.
  • Verbal irony is when the author has put the characters’ lines in such a way that the intended meaning is the exact opposite of what is being said. Unlike the other two types of irony, when verbal irony is used, the character knows the truth but uses irony intentionally in a sarcastic manner to reveal the hidden truth. Jonathan Swift, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edgar Allen Poe and George Bernard Shaw are known for the use of verbal irony in their works.

There are specific reasons why authors make use of a particular rhetorical device in their writing. While some of it could be to make comparisons and indicate similarities, some others might to bring focus or create a humorous effect. Authors are seen using irony for some of the reasons given below:

  • The first reason behind using irony is to emphasise a point that requires attention or the one that indicates a noticeable change in the character or plot.
  • The next reason would be to make the readers pause for a second and think about what the author is actually trying to convey.
  • Another reason is to depict the variance between what is happening, how everything at the moment occurs and what had been expected of the characters or the plot.
  • Also, to induce a tone of sarcasm through the characters’ lines or the narrator’s description.

Above all this, the success of irony is achieved only when the target audience is able to realise the difference between what is being said and what is actually occurring.

Examples of Irony

Here are a few examples of irony for your reference.

Have a look at the following examples of the three types of irony from literature.

Examples of Dramatic Irony

  • In the play, ‘Othello’ by William Shakespeare, Iago tries to manipulate Othello into believing that he is an honest man.

“Othello: I think thou dost.

And for I know thou ‘rt full of love and honesty

And weigh’st thy words before thou giv’st them breath…”

  • William Shakespeare applies dramatic irony in the play ‘Macbeth’ as well. In the below lines, we see King Duncan expressing his absolute trust over Macbeth who would kill him.

“He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust”

  • In ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles, you can see Oedipus saying that he would not fail to make sure to find who the murderer of his father is.
  • “On these accounts I, as for my own father,

Will fight this fight, and follow out every clue,

Seeking to seize the author of his murder.”

Examples of Situational Irony

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses situational irony in his poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in the lines,

“Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.”

  • In William Shakespeare’s play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, you can see a great use of situational irony in the scene where Romeo finds Juliet lying as if dead and so kills himself. He says,

“O my love, my wife! Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.”

Juliet is seen waking up later to see that Romeo had killed himself, and so kills herself too.

  • ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O. Henry has an apt example of situational irony. The characters in the story – the husband and wife are seen to sell off their priced possessions in order to get the other a gift they would love. They, however, end up buying gifts that both of them can no longer use.

Examples of Verbal Irony

  • The moment anyone thinks of verbal irony, the first example that comes to mind would be Antony’s speech about Brutus being an honourable man in the play, ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare. He is seen to describe all the good that Caesar did and establish that in spite of all that, Antony said that Caesar was ambitious and that he was an honourable man. This is done for quite some time finally letting the audience understand who was in fact behind the death of Julius Caesar.
  • “I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.”

  • In the novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen, Darcy’s first impression of Elizabeth Bennet was contrary to the final outcome, hence making it an instance of verbal irony. He says, “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me” , but ends up loving and marrying her in the end.
  • In the play, ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw, you can see Mrs. Higgins using verbal irony to react to Prof. Higgins’ attitude and arrogance towards Eliza.

Higgins: ‘Don’t you dare try this game on me. I taught it to you; and it doesn’t take me in. Get up and come home; and don’t be a fool.”

Mrs. Higgins: ‘Very nicely put, indeed, Henry. No woman could resist such an invitation.”

To make learning irony a little more fun, here are a few examples of irony in some of the most-watched movies and TV series. Check out the examples below and try to analyse if you were able to see the irony in it when you watched the movie/TV series.

  • In the movie Maleficent, you see Aurora going back to find Maleficent, the witch who cursed her when she was born, and developing a loving relationship with her. She, however, leaves her to go see her father and ends up in the dungeon pricking her finger on the needle and falling to eternal sleep, thereby fulfilling the curse. The whole time, the audience knows about all this and all of these events can be said to bring the effect of dramatic irony in the movie.
  • Snow White is seen taking the apple that would put her into a deep sleep as the Wicked Stepmother had cursed in the movie, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. It is an example of dramatic irony because the audience knows all along that the apple was the cursed apple and what it would do to Snow White.
  • In ‘Aladdin’, the title character is given an opportunity to make three wishes and he is found wishing to be a prince and have all the riches in the world in order to marry Jasmine, the princess. However, his wish turns out to be ironic because the princess does not seem to be in any way attracted to him because of the riches and does not want to marry him.
  • In ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S.’, the TV Series, Rachel is seen quitting her job as a waitress as she was fed up of serving coffee. Once she quits, she is so sure she does not have to serve coffee ever again. It becomes ironic when she gets a job in a field of her liking and all she has to do is serve coffee.

What is irony?

Irony is a rhetorical device that is used to express an intended meaning by using language that conveys the opposite meaning when taken literally.

What is the definition of irony?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the term ‘irony’ as “the use of words that say the opposite of what you really mean, often as a joke and with a tone of voice that shows this”. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, irony is defined as “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning”, and according to the Collins Dictionary, irony is “a subtle form of humour which involves saying things that you do not mean”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines irony as “the use of words that are the opposite of what you mean, as a way of being funny”.

What are the types of irony?

There are three main types of irony and they are:

  • Dramatic irony
  • Situational irony
  • Verbal irony

Give some examples of irony.

Given below are a few examples of irony that you can refer to.

Seeking to seize the author of his murder.” ( ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles)

And, sure, he is an honourable man.” (‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare)

  • “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me.” (‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen)
  • “O my love, my wife! Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.” (‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare)
  • “He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust.” (‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare)

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Table of contents, introduction.

  • What is irony?
  • Types of Irony

Why Do Writers Use Irony?

  • Examples of Irony
  • Examples of Irony in Literature

Irony is a figure of speech where the intended meaning of words or actions is opposite to their literal or expected meaning, often creating a humorous or thought-provoking effect.

In this article, we will define this figure of speech and illustrate it with examples from literature.

Let’s start with the definition of irony!

What Is Irony?

Irony is a figure of speech in which there is a contradiction of expectation between what is said and what is really meant . It is characterized by an incongruity, a contrast, between reality and appearance.

An example of irony is when a fire station burns down while the firefighters are responding to a call at a neighboring building.

The term “irony” comes from the Greek word “ eironeia ,” which originally referred to a dissimulating or feigned ignorance, and later evolved to denote a contrast between appearance and reality in literature and speech.

Types Of Irony

There are three types of irony: verbal , dramatic , and situational .

  • It is a contrast between what is said and what is meant
  • Example: During a heavy rainstorm, someone looks out the window and says, “What lovely weather we’re having!”
  • It occurs when the audience or the reader knows more than the character about events. In other words, what the character thinks is true is inconsistent with what the audience knows.
  • Example: In “The Green Mile”, John Coffey possesses the power to heal ailments and even resurrect the dead, yet he is unjustly accused and convicted of a heinous crime. The irony deepens as the audience witnesses this juxtaposition between Coffey’s capacity for healing and his enormous physical strength, capable of causing harm. This figure of speech becomes a powerful element in the narrative, emphasizing the complexities of human nature and challenging preconceived notions about good and evil.
  • This refers to the contrast between the actual result of a situation and what was intended or expected to happen.
  • A fire station catches fire while the firefighters are responding to an emergency in another part of the town.

Writers use irony for several reasons, as it adds depth, complexity, and nuance to their storytelling. Here are some primary reasons why writers use it:

  • Enhancing Complexity: This figure of speech allows writers to introduce layers of meaning and complexity into their narratives. By juxtaposing what is expected with what actually occurs, writers create a more intricate and thought-provoking story.
  • Engaging the Audience: This figure of speech captivates readers or viewers by challenging their expectations. It prompts them to think critically about the narrative, characters, and themes, fostering a deeper engagement with the material.
  • Highlighting Themes: It can be a powerful tool for emphasizing themes and messages within a work. By presenting situations where the outcome is contrary to expectations, writers can underscore larger ideas or social commentary.
  • Creating Humor: It is often used for comedic effect. When there is a contrast between what is said or expected and what actually happens, it can evoke laughter or amusement, adding a lighter tone to the narrative.
  • Building Suspense: Dramatic irony, where the audience knows something the characters do not, can be an effective way to build suspense. This creates tension as readers eagerly anticipate the unfolding consequences of the characters’ actions.
  • Challenging Assumptions: It challenges preconceived notions and societal expectations. It allows writers to subvert conventional ideas, revealing the incongruities between appearance and reality, and prompting readers to question their own beliefs.
  • Conveying Critique or Satire: It is often employed in satire and social commentary. By presenting situations or characters in an ironic light, writers can critique societal norms, behaviors, or institutions in a subtle yet impactful manner.

Examples Of Irony

Here are some examples of Irony with explanations:

  • Explanation: This is an example of verbal irony. The phrase “clear as mud” is a figurative expression that means something is confusing or unclear. When someone says, “His argument was as clear as mud,” it’s ironic because it suggests the argument was not clear at all, contrary to what the words literally mean.
  • Explanation: This is an example of situational irony. Identical twins are expected to look very similar, if not identical. However, in this situation, one twin telling the other “You’re ugly” creates an unexpected and ironic contrast, as they are genetically identical. The irony lies in the unexpected divergence from the usual expectation of identical twins looking alike.
  • Explanation: This is an example of situational irony. A police station is typically a place where law enforcement is based, and it’s expected to be secure. In this situation, the fact that thieves successfully rob the police station is ironic because it goes against the usual expectations. The irony lies in the reversal of roles, where the supposed guardians of law and order become the victims of a crime.
  • Explanation : The situation did not go well, but the expression suggests the opposite.
  • Explanation : The praise suggests approval, but the speaker is actually expressing disapproval.
  • Explanation: The statement implies frustration, but the words used suggest the opposite.
  • Explanation: The situation is described as delightful, but the term “mess” contradicts this positive expression.
  • Explanation: The use of “perfect” suggests approval, but the context indicates the opposite.
  • Explanation: The speaker uses a positive word like “wonderful” to describe a situation usually considered negative.
  • Explanation: The speaker sarcastically comments on the great weather when the reality is adverse.
  • Explanation: The term “genius” is used sarcastically to highlight the opposite quality in the person.

Examples Of Irony In Literature

Examples of irony are frequent in literature. The incorporation of this stylistic device in literary works adds depth, complexity, and often a layer of intrigue to storytelling. Here are some illustrative examples:

OEDIPUS Then I will start afresh, and once again shed light on darkness. It is most fitting that Apollo demonstrates his care for the dead man, and worthy of you, too. And so you’ll see how I will work with you, as is right, seeking vengeance for this land, as well as for the god. This polluting stain I will remove, not for some distant friends, but for myself. For whoever killed this man may soon enough desire to turn his hand to punish me in the same way, as well. Thus, in avenging Laius, I serve myself. But now, my children, quickly as you can stand up from these altar steps and raise your suppliant branches. Someone must call the Theban people to assemble here. I’ll do everything I can. With the god’s help this will all come to light successfully, or else will prove our common ruin. From “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles’

Sophocles’ “ Oedipus Rex ” is an example of dramatic irony . The audience knows that Oedipus is the murderer he is trying to find, while Oedipus remains unaware of his true identity. This creates suspense and tension as the audience anticipates the tragic revelation.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” From “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austin

The opening line from “ Pride and Prejudice ” by Jane Austen is an example of verbal irony . The statement begins with what seems like a universally accepted truth, but as the story unfolds, the irony becomes evident.

The novel explores the complexities of relationships and challenges the initial notion that a wealthy single man must inevitably be seeking a wife. The irony lies in the contrast between the apparent truth stated and the nuanced realities revealed in the narrative.

All of a sudden she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her heart began to beat with an immoderate desire. Her hands trembled as she took it. She fastened it round her throat, outside her high-necked waist, and was lost in ecstasy at her reflection in the mirror. Then she asked, hesitating, filled with anxious doubt: “Will you lend me this, only this?” “Why, yes, certainly.” She threw her arms around her friend’s neck, kissed her passionately, then fled with her treasure. From “ The Necklace ” by Guy de Maupassant

“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant provides a good example of situational irony .

Mathilde Loisel, the main character in Guy de Maupassant’s “ The Necklace ,” borrows a diamond necklace from a friend to enhance her appearance at a luxurious ball, aiming to appear affluent. However, her plans take a tragic turn as she loses the jewels, leading to financial ruin for both her and her husband.

Ironically, in the story’s conclusion, Mathilde discovers that the jewels she sacrificed so much to replace were, in fact, fake, adding a poignant twist to the narrative.

In summary, irony is a powerful and multifaceted literary device that transcends the mere surface of words, injecting narratives with layers of complexity and depth. It can be classified into three types—verbal, dramatic, and situational—each contributing a distinct flavor to the storytelling palette.

This stylistic device adds richness to literature by challenging expectations, engaging readers through subtle twists, and offering a nuanced exploration of themes. If you incorporate irony into your writing, you will not only captivate your audience but also elevate the sophistication and impact of your narrative, fostering a more profound connection between the text and the reader.

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20 Irony Examples: In Literature and Real Life

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Millie Dinsdale

Irony examples title

Irony occurs when what happens is the opposite from what is expected.

Writers use irony as a literary technique to add humor, create tension, include uncertainty, or form the central plot of a story.

We will be looking at the four types of irony (three common and one uncommon) and providing examples and tips to help you identify and use them in your work.

Quick Reminder of What Irony Is

Irony examples in literature, irony examples in real life, which scenario is an example of irony.

Irony is a rhetorical device in which the appearance of something is opposite to its reality .

There are four main types of irony: verbal irony, dramatic irony, situational irony, and Socratic irony . Socratic irony is not a literary device, and therefore we will not be looking at examples, but it is worth being aware of.

Irony definition

  • Verbal Irony is when a speaker says one thing but means something entirely different. The literal meaning is at odds with the intended meaning.
  • Dramatic Irony is when the audience knows something that the characters don’t.
  • Situational Irony is when what happens is the opposite of what you expect.
  • Socratic Irony is when a person feigns ignorance in order to get another to admit to knowing or doing something. It is named after Socrates, the Greek philosopher, who used this technique to tease information out of his students.

The four types of irony

Why is irony important to understand? Along with being a key rhetorical device, irony can also be very effective when used correctly in writing.

To demonstrate this fact we have selected ten examples of irony usage from popular literature. Warning: this list includes a few spoilers.

1) The main characters’ wishes in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are a perfect example of situational irony .

The characters go on a quest to fulfill their hearts’ desires and instead of doing so they realize that they already had what they wanted all along. It is unexpected because the reader might assume that all of their desires will be gifted to the four main characters but, in the end, it’s unnecessary.

2) The conclusion between the two primary opponents in The Night Circus contains a large amount of situational irony .

The reader is led to expect that either Marco or Celia will win but, in the end, they both end up working together to keep their creation alive. The competition is not as black and white (pardon the pun) as it initially seems.

3) The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is full of verbal irony . A great example of this is when Dr Jekyll says “I am quite sure of him,” when referring to Mr Hyde.

This is verbal irony because the reader finds out that Hyde is actually Jekyll’s alter ego, so it would be expected that he knows himself well.

4) Shakespeare creates dramatic irony in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet through the line: “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

This well-known example is ironic because the reader knows from the very beginning that their romance will end in death, but they don’t yet know how.

Irony in Romeo and Juliet

5) Alice’s changing relationship with the Bandersnatch in Alice in Wonderland is situationally ironic .

When we first meet the Bandersnatch, he is ferocious and attempts to harm Alice. When Alice returns his eye, they become friends and the two work together to defeat the Jabberwocky. The audience expects to see an enemy but are instead presented with an ally.

6) George Orwell masters situational irony in Animal Farm through the animals’ endless and fruitless battle to obtain freedom.

All of the animals work together to escape the tyranny of the humans who own them. In doing so they end up under the even stricter rule of the pigs.

7) Roald Dahl’s short story A Lamb to a Slaughter is full of dramatic irony .

A housewife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb when he asks for a divorce. The police come looking for evidence and unknowingly dispose of it when they are fed the murder weapon for dinner.

8) The repeated line “May the odds be ever in your favor” in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is verbally ironic .

Everyone from district 1 through 12 can be offered as a child sacrifice and has a 1/24 chance of surviving. Even if they do survive they are then delivered back under the control of the Capitol, so the odds are in nobody’s favor.

9) The disparity between children and adults in Roald Dahl’s Matilda is situationally ironic .

Most of the adults in Matilda’s life are hot-headed, uneducated, and unreasonable, while she as a six-year old is more mature than most of them. The traditional roles of child and adult are unexpectedly flipped on their heads.

10) The hit-and-run in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is situationally ironic .

Daisy Buchanan kills Myrtle when Myrtle runs in front of Gatsby’s car. It is ironic because Myrtle is Tom Buchanan’s mistress but Daisy does not know this. She unintentionally killed her husband's mistress.

Irony works so well in literature because it is so common in real life. Have you ever found yourself saying “well that’s ironic” to a situation in your life?

You could be talking about verbal, situational, or dramatic irony. Let’s take a look at a few everyday examples of each type.

11) When you find out that your pulmonologist (lung doctor) smokes.

This is situationally ironic because you’d expect this doctor of all people to avoid smoking because they understand all of the risks.

12) When someone falls over for the tenth time while ice-skating and says “I meant to do that.”

This person cannot be intending to fall over all the time but they are using verbal irony to make light of a possibly painful situation.

13) Your dog eats his certificate of dog-training obedience.

You would expect that in the process of having obtained an obedience certificate, the dog would also have learnt not to eat random objects. This is an example of situational irony .

14) The fire hydrant is on fire.

This is situationally ironic because the last thing that you would expect to be on fire is the object that is designed to fight fires. A similar example to this would be if a fire station were on fire.

15) A girl is teasing her friend for having mud on his face but she doesn’t know that she also has mud on her face.

From the point of view of the friend, this is an example of dramatic irony because he knows something that she does not.

16) Your mom buys a non-stick pan but has to throw it away because the label is so sticky she cannot get it off.

You would predict that the pan was completely non-stick but are proven wrong at the first hurdle, which is situationally ironic .

17) When someone crashes into a “thank you for driving carefully'' sign.

The vision of a car crashed into the sign makes it clear that they did not drive carefully at all, which is situationally ironic .

18) Buying your English teacher a mug that reads “your the best teacher ever.”

The poor English teacher may feel like they have failed in their job in this situationally ironic situation where their student has bought them a mug with a grammar mistake.

19) When a child says “I want crisps now!” and the parent says: “Thank you so much for using your good manners.”

The child is being impolite and the parent is not actually congratulating the child on their manners in this example of verbal irony . They mean the exact opposite.

20) You can’t open your new scissors because you don’t have any scissors to cut through the plastic.

This example of situational irony is far too common. In buying scissors, it can be expected that you do not have any, so it is ironic that the packaging is designed for someone who already has a pair.

Are you ready for a quick quiz to test your knowledge of irony? The test is split into the three types of irony.

Which of These Are Examples of Situational Irony?

Definition of situational irony

1) A police station is robbed.

2) A child loses his rucksack after being told to take care not to lose it.

3) A person eats sweets while preaching about healthy eating

Only 1) and 3) are examples of situational irony. Sentence 2) is not a situational irony example because it could be expected that the child might lose the rucksack and that is why they were told to take care.

It would, however, be ironic if he subsequently lost his “Most Organized in 2nd Grade” certificate five minutes after being awarded it.

Which of These Are Examples of Verbal Irony?

Definition of Verbal irony

1) Saying “The weather is lovely today” while it is hailing.

2) “Wow that perfume is so lovely, did you bathe in it?”

3) Saying “Thank you so much for your help” after someone has crushed your new glasses while helping to look for them.

Only example 1) is verbally ironic, the other two are sarcastic comments.

Verbal irony and sarcasm are often confused but there is one big difference between them: verbal irony is when what you say is the opposite of what you mean while sarcasm is specifically meant to embarrass or insult someone.

Which of These Are Examples of Dramatic Irony?

Definition of dramatic irony

1) A small ship without life boats is stuck in a monumental storm in the middle of the Atlantic.

2) Three characters are killed and a fourth seems to be going the same way.

3) A girl walks down the same alley we have just seen a known murderer walk down.

Only option 3) is an example of dramatic irony because the audience knows that the murderer is down the alley but the girl does not.

Although the other two examples are undeniably dramatic, there is no inherent irony because the audience has no more knowledge about what will happen than those involved.

Why Should You Use Irony in Your Writing?

Irony can be an effective tool to make a reader stop and think about what has just happened.

It can also emphasize a central theme or idea by adding an unexpected twist to the events of the story.

What brilliant examples of irony in literature have we missed? Share your favorites in the comments.

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What is Irony?


  • File photo. | Credit 6JP ClassBlog

Irony (also known as “illusio,” “dissimulatio,” “ironia,” “simulatio,” “the dry mock”; etymologically from the Greek root “eirōneía,” literally means “dissimulation” or “feigned ignorance”), is a rhetorical technique by which the surface meaning of what is said is different from the underlying meaning of what is intended.

Alternatively, irony can be defined as a form of speech in which what the speaker utters is the direct contrary of what he intends shall be understood; as with the following examples:

— (Goldsmith’s Essays, p. 150.)

— (1 Kings, xviii, 27.)

— (Cowper)

Types of Irony and Examples

As with some other figures of speech  Opens in new window , Irony brings about some added meanings to a situation. Ironical statements and situations in literature develop readers’ interest. Irony makes a work of literature more intriguing and forces the readers to use their imagination and comprehend the underlying meanings of the texts.

Moreover, real life is full of ironical expressions and situations. On this note, Irony may be divided into three (3) sub-categories, namely:

  • verbal irony ,
  • dramatic irony , and
  • situational irony .

1.   Verbal Irony

Verbal Irony is a type of irony which consists when a speaker uses masked words to express something in contrary to the intended meaning. This can be a form of decoy, in attempt to mask the speaker’s opinion especially where such opinion is deemed negative.

For instance, one might say “oh what a happy day” when actually it’s been raining all day.

2.   Dramatic Irony

Dramatic Irony usually takes place in movies and literary works. It’s a situation where the audience knows something that a particular character in the movie doesn’t know about.

Let’s refresh our memories by observing examples from some of the famous movies we probably have seen in the past.

The Lion King. Opens in new window — It was all revealed, that Scar killed Mufasa, ironically Simba doesn’t know this fact, and it created tension because Simba was in danger and worse still trusting Scar and doesn’t know Scar was behind all his misfortunes.

Frozen Opens in new window . — This is a movie with a fantastic example of dramatic irony. Ela has powers she could not control (and we “the audience” knew this fact), but Anna doesn’t know this and thinks her sister is unfriendly, where in actual sense, Ela is distant simply because she’s terrified of hurting her sister.

Little Mermaid. Opens in new window — In this exciting movie, it was all revealed, Ariel doesn’t know Ursula is only using her to get to Triton. Eric doesn’t know Ariel is a mermaid under a spell. Eric doesn’t know Vanessa is disguised to feign someone else to entice him away from Ariel. Likewise, Ariel and Scuttle don’t know the names for the stuffs we know, the likes of dinglehopper! Snarfblatt! which altogether enhances the comedic effect of the movie.

3.   Situational Irony

Situational Irony involves situations in which the manifested outcome is contrastable to what was expected.

There are contradictions and contrasts from expectation in the way things would naturally unfold, as for instance: where a fire station is caught up with fire, or when a police station got ransacked by burglars or even as it’s rampant these days to see clergies being the culprit of adultery.

Other examples of situational irony includes the following:

  • When Cigar manufacturers warns “smokers are liable to die young” yet still producing more cigarette.
  • When a classmate is complaining of Facebook being boring yet still posts updates on Facebook every other time.
  • The meal taste awful complained a lady, yet she finishes her portion with no traces of crumbs.
  • Oh too bad it’s Friday already, when in actual sense you are elated the weekend is here again.

The way of distinguishing an Irony from the real sentiments of the speaker or writer, are by the accent Opens in new window , the air, the extravagance of the praise, the character of the person, the idea of the thing, or the vein of the discourse: for if in handy of these respects there is any disagreement from the common sense of the words, it appears that one thing is spoken, and another is meant.

Similar Figures of Contraries

  •  Antiphrasis Opens in new window
  •  Epitrope Opens in new window
  •  Litotes Opens in new window
  •  Paralipsis Opens in new window
  •  Sarcasm Opens in new window
  • Wikipedia, Irony Opens in new window
  • Literary Devices, Irony Opens in new window
  • Silva Rhetoricae, Irony Opens in new window
  • Your, Examples of Irony Opens in new window
  • Quintilian (9.2. p. 45-51);
  • Aquil. (“ironia,” “simulation” p. 7);
  • Susenbrotus (“ironia,” “illusion” 1540 p. 14-15);
  • Sherry (“ironia,” “dissimulation” 1550 p. 45);
  • Peacham (1577);
  • Putt. (“ironia,” “the dry mock” 1589 p. 199


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Irony Figure of Speech

Figures of speech are literary devices which are used to convey ideas that go beyond their literal meaning. In English, there are more than 200 different  types of figures of speech . 

The Irony figure of speech is one of them.


Irony Figure of speech Meaning

Verbal irony  is a figure of speech where the speaker says the exact opposite of what he or she intends. Some writers use verbal irony to indirectly criticise or mock.

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Dramatic irony  is a figure of speech where the audience or the reader knows more about the outcome of the story than the character in a film, novel or play.

Situational irony  is where there is deviance from what is often expected from the situation.

  • John is the busiest man I know. Between gambling and sleeping, he barely finds time for work. (By saying he barely finds time to work, the writer intends to criticise John who is whiling away his time sleeping and gambling.)
  • The most discreet person in the office is Lisa who cannot help discussing sordid details of her private life with anyone who comes her way. (By calling her ‘The most discreet person,’ the speaker goes on to narrate Lisa‘s indiscretion.)

Irony Figure of speech Examples

“Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge , The Rime of the Ancient Mariner In Sophocles‘ ‘Oedipus Rex‘, the King ventures out to find the murderer of King Laius without realising he himself is the murderer.

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Irony: definition, types, and examples

Holly Stanley

Holly Stanley

irony sentence examples figure of speech

“That’s so ironic!” We’ve all probably uttered these words at some point. In fact, you probably hear “isn’t it ironic?” all the time. Irony is one of the English language’s most misused and abused words. 

Irony has become synonymous with coincidence, bad luck, and pleasant surprises. But most things in life aren’t ironic . 

So if coincidences, bad luck, and unusual situations aren’t, what is ironic ? Let’s track down the misused word and uncover what situations it pertains to. 

Irony definition

The use of irony shows the contrast or incongruity between how things appear and how they are in reality. The remark “how ironic” indicates a meaning that’s the opposite of its precise meaning. 

In an ironic phrase, one thing is said, while another thing is meant. For example, if it were a cold, rainy gray day, you might say, “What a beautiful day!” Or, alternatively, if you were suffering from a bad bout of food poisoning, you might say, “Wow, I feel great today.”

These are both examples of irony –– verbal irony, to be precise –– the most frequently used type of irony (more on that later.)

Where does the word irony come from? 

Looking at irony’s origins can help with understanding how to best use the word. The word irony comes from the Latin ironia , meaning “feigned ignorance,” and previously from the Greek eironeia . Eiron, a Greek comic, was an intelligent underdog who used his wit to triumph over the egotistical character Alazon.

Since irony describes an outcome that contrasts with the originally expected results, you’ll see that writers generally use irony to build tension, create humor, or as a plot twist. 

When is something not ironic? 

When pinpointing the definition of irony , it can be helpful to look at when situations are incorrectly labeled as ironic . Irony is often used as a synonym for a caustic remark, something that’s interesting, or sarcastic.

The definition of irony

What about the song Ironic ? 

Even singer Alanis Morissette got the definition wrong in her hit 1995 single “Ironic.” In fact, the criticism of her song was so strong, she had to clarify that she wasn’t technically trying to say that every line of the song was ironic.

Let’s take a closer look at Morissette’s timeless song lyrics:

It’s like rain on your wedding day,

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid,

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take.

While it could be considered bad luck, rain on a wedding day isn’t ironic , since it’s not as though it’s a given that every wedding day will have perfect sunny weather.

In a similar vein, a free ride when you’ve already paid or not taking good advice isn’t ironic either. The former is unusual and the latter is something that’s interesting.

Types of irony

To help you better understand irony and how to use it in your writing, we’ll dive into five different types.

Verbal irony 

Verbal irony is when the intended meaning of a phrase is the opposite of what is meant. It’s a figure of speech used to emphasize the contrast in meanings. It’s often used as a way of injecting witty humor into someone’s speech or writing. 

There are many English expressions that epitomize verbal irony. Here are a few:

•  “Fat chance!”

•  “Clear as mud”

•  “As soft as concrete”

Verbal irony works best as a literary technique when the reader already knows the initial concepts. For instance, it’s common knowledge that concrete is hard, and mud is opaque.

As you might imagine, an ironic understatement creates contrast by undermining the impact of something, despite the subject itself being quite severe. 

In J.D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye , the character Holden Caulfield says, “I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.”

Of course, having a brain tumor is a serious health issue, which Holden downplays in this excerpt. 

Alternatively, an ironic overstatement makes something insignificant sound like a bigger deal than it is to highlight how minor it is. Statements like these are figurative language and are the opposite of their literal meaning.

Say you go for a job interview, but it’s a trainwreck because you spill coffee on your brand-new suit, are 20 minutes late, and forget the interviewer’s name. Your partner asks you how it went and you say, “Aced it, best interview of my life” –– that’s an ironic overstatement.

If verbal irony sounds like it’s pretty familiar, it’s because sarcasm is actually a form of verbal irony (more on that later.) 

Dramatic irony 

A favorite in many famous movies and books, dramatic irony is a literary device where the reader or spectator knows critical information but the characters don’t. 

One of the most famous examples of literary dramatic irony is in O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” A recently married couple chooses independently to sacrifice and sell what means most to them to buy a Christmas gift for the other. 

But in a twist of fate, the gifts they receive from each other are meant for the prized possessions they just sold. Although their sacrifices show the love they have for one another, the gifts they receive are actually useless.

Dramatic irony is a staple in horror movies. For example, the main character hides under the bed where the killer is hiding (the audience knows the killer is there but the protagonist doesn’t.) This form of irony is a great way of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and building tension. 

Tragic irony 

In tragic irony, a subset of dramatic irony, the words, and actions of the characters contradict reality, often in a tragic or devastating way, which the readers or spectators realize.

Tragic irony came to define many ancient Greek tragedies. For instance, in Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex,” the audience can see what Oedipus is blind to: he’s actually killing his own father. 

William Shakespeare was also a fan of using tragic irony to keep the audience gripped to a compelling, often sorrowful plotline. In Romeo and Juliet , when Romeo is alerted of Juliet’s death, he assumes the tragic news to be true. 

But the audience knows that Juliet has, in fact, just faked her death with the help of a potion. Romeo, on the other hand, thinks Juliet is dead and, as a result, commits suicide.

Socratic irony  

Socratic irony gets its name from the moral philosopher Socrates, who would often fake ignorance to reveal someone’s misconstrued assumptions. It’s one of the more manipulative types of irony and is one way of getting information out of someone that can then be used against them later. 

You might recognize socratic irony in courtroom scenes from legal dramas like Suits . Lawyers often use rhetorical tricks, like socratic irony , to get someone to confess or admit something. 

Socratic irony is also perfect for comedies, too. In a classic scene from the American comedy T he Office , Michael knows that Dwight lied about going to the dentist. When Dwight returns, Michael goes for some rather ineffective rhetorical questioning to try and catch Dwight out. 

Situational irony 

Situational irony or the “irony of events” is when the reality contradicts an expected outcome. 

In movies and literature, situational irony ensures things are unpredictable and interesting. After all, it’d be dull if the plot turned out exactly how we expected every time. It’s not how life or fictional storytelling works. 

With situational irony, we learn at the same time as the characters that our expectations are different from reality.

For example in American Psycho , Patrick Bateman confesses to committing a string of murders but is laughed off. We anticipate that he’ll be punished for his crimes, but he isn’t, making it a perfect example of situational irony.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is another story full of examples of situational irony. Dorothy longs to go home and fulfills the wizard’s demanding list of tasks only to find out she had the ability to return home all along. The lion who appears to be a coward is actually courageous and the scarecrow who wants to be intelligent is actually a genius.

Situational irony is linked to the concept of cosmic irony –– when the universe or gods seemingly conspire for an event for its own amusement. 

Cosmic irony is a subcategory of situational irony but is defined by the inclusion of a supernatural element. There’s still a situation where the reality and expectation are different but there is another element involved –– a higher power if you will. This could be god, the universe, or fate. 

Remember that the “irony of events” isn’t the same as a coincidence or plain bad luck. 

What’s the difference between irony and sarcasm?

Ah, “sarcasm the lowest form of wit” as the writer, Oscar Wilde, once said. While Wilde wasn’t a fan, a sarcastic jibe here and there isn’t always bad news.

People often mix up irony and sarcasm. As we touched on briefly above, sarcasm is actually a type of irony. 

So the difference between sarcasm and irony is pretty small and nuanced. Once you’re clear on how sarcasm fits into irony, you won’t find yourself identifying sarcasm as irony again.

In its simplest form, irony refers to situations where the outcome is the opposite of what you or the reader expect. 

If a prediction is black, then the outcome would be white. Not off-white or gray, it would have to be totally the opposite of black. 

Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a form of expression that’s generally pointed at a person with the objective of criticizing or denigrating someone. Sarcasm is usually insincere speech and can have a condescending tone to it, with the purpose of insulting or embarrassing someone. 

Let’s take a look at both verbal irony and sarcasm side by side:

Verbal irony — Wife saying, “What a beautiful stormy day for a swim.”

Sarcasm —  Husband saying to the same wife, “The middle of the hurricane season was a great time for a vacation out here.” 

See how with verbal irony, it’s ironic because the weather isn’t beautiful for swimming. Instead, the opposite is true –– it’s unpleasant and sometimes dangerous to swim during a storm. 

But sarcasm is making a sneering comment about choosing to go on vacation in the middle of hurricane season. When you see the two statements together, it’s easier to see how they differ from one another. 

Let’s look at some more sarcasm examples:

•  After someone tells a boring or never-ending story: “That’s so fascinating.”

•  After failing your driving test: “Well, that went well.” 

•  Self-deprecating: “ Dinner is burned, I’m such a great chef. ”

To easily differentiate between sarcasm and irony, remember that irony applies to situations while sarcasm is a form of expression. In a way, sarcasm is like irony dressed up with a sassy attitude.

Key takeaways: irony

So, that’s a wrap. Irony isn’t all that difficult to wrap your head around when you know what to look for. Ultimately, irony is just the use of words to express something that’s the opposite of the literal meaning.

When used correctly, irony helps you inject humor and wit into your writing while keeping things interesting and unexpected for the reader. 

Looking to make your writing more engaging? Try a free trial with Writer today. 

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  • Literary Terms
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Use Irony

I. What is Irony?

Irony (pronounced ‘eye-run-ee’) is when there are two contradicting meanings of the same situation, event, image, sentence, phrase, or story.  In many cases, this refers to the difference between expectations and reality.

For example, if you go sight-seeing anywhere in the world today, you will see crowds of people who are so busy taking cell-phone pictures of themselves in front of the sight that they don’t actually look at what they came to see with their own eyes.  This is ironic, specifically, situational irony . This one situation has two opposing meanings that contradict expectations: (1) going to see a sight and prove that you were there (2) not enjoying the thing you went to see.

Irony is often used for critical or humorous effect in literature, music, art, and film (or a lesson).  In conversation, people often use verbal irony to express humor, affection, or emotion, by saying the opposite of what they mean to somebody who is expected to recognize the irony.  “I hate you” can mean “I love you”—but only if the person you’re saying it to already knows that! This definition is, of course, related to the first one (as we expect people’s words to reflect their meaning) and in most cases, it can be considered a form of sarcasm.

II. Examples of Irony

A popular visual representation of irony shows a seagull sitting on top of a “no seagulls” sign. The meaning of the sign is that seagulls are not allowed in the area.  The seagull sitting on the sign not only contradicts it, but calls attention to the absurdity of trying to dictate where seagulls may or may not go, which makes us laugh.

Another example is a staircase leading up to a fitness center, with an escalator running alongside it. All the gym patrons are using the escalator and no one is on the stairs. Given that this is a fitness center, we’d expect that everyone should be dedicated to health and exercise, and so they would use the free exercise offered by the stairs. But instead, they flock to the comfort of the escalator, in spite of the fact that they’ve come all this way just to exercise. Once again, our expectations are violated and the result is irony and humor.

Aleister Crowley, a famous English mystic of the early twentieth century, who taught that a person could do anything if they mastered their own mind, died of heroin addiction. This is ironic because the way he died completely contradicts what he taught.

III. The Importance of Irony

The most common purpose of irony is to create humor and/or point out the absurdity of life. As in the all of the examples above, life has a way of contradicting our expectations, often in painful ways. Irony generally makes us laugh, even when the circumstances are tragic, such as in Aleister Crowley’s failure to beat his addiction. We laugh not because the situations were tragic, but because they violate our expectations.  The contrast between people’s expectations and the reality of the situations is not only funny, but also meaningful because it calls our attention to how wrong human beings can be.  Irony is best when it points us towards deeper meanings of a situation.

IV. Examples of Irony in Literature

In O. Henry’s famous short story The Gift of the Magi , a husband sells his prized watch so that he can buy combs as a gift for his wife. Meanwhile, the wife sells her beautiful hair so she can buy a watch-chain for her husband. The characters ’ actions contradict each other’s expectations and their efforts to give each other gifts make the gifts useless.

Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amantillado is full of verbal and situational irony, including the name of the main character. He’s called Fortunato (Italian for “fortunate”), in spite of the fact that he’s extremely unlucky throughout the story.

Water, water everywhere, nor any a drop to drink.

This line from Samuel Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” describes the dark irony of a sailor dying of thirst on his boat while he is surrounded by water.

V. Examples of Irony in Pop Culture

Alannis Morisette’s popular song “Ironic” contains such lyrics as:

Rain on your wedding day A free ride when you’ve already paid Good advice that you just didn’t take

These are not examples of irony . They’re just unfortunate coincidences. However, the fact that her song is called “Ironic” and yet has such unironic lyrics is itself ironic. The title contradicts the lyrics of the song. It isn’t, so your expectations are violated.

In Disney’s Aladdin , Aladdin wishes for riches and power so that he can earn the right to marry Princess Jasmine. Thanks to the genie’s magic, he gets all the wealth he could ask for and parades through the streets as a prince. But, ironically, this makes him unattractive to the princess and he finds himself further away from his goal than he was as a poor beggar. In this case, it’s the contrast between Aladdin’s expectations and results which are ironic.

Related terms

Sarcasm is a kind of verbal irony that has a biting or critical tone, although it can be used to express affection between friends It is one of the most common forms of irony in fiction and in real life. We’ve all heard people use verbal irony to mock, insult, or poke fun at someone or something. For example, here’s a famous sarcastic line from The Princess Bride :

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

In the scene, Wesley is insulting the intelligence of Vizzini the Sicilian using verbal irony (the word “truly” makes it even more ironic, since Wesley is reassuring Vizzini of the truth of an untrue statement). The line is both ironic and mean, and therefore it’s sarcastic . One needs to be a little careful with sarcasm, since you can easily hurt people’s feelings or make them angry.

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Irony Figure of Speech

Irony Figure of Speech: Let’s Learn about a Significant Aspect of English Grammar


Ironical phrases are said and heard by everyone but do you know what an ironic figure of speech is? Well, these are the sentences that have a fair bit of contradiction between what is said and what it means. These words are used both professionally and personally to create fun, creativity, or different expressions.

Let’s learn about its types along with the examples so that next time you can use them before others or before those who use them to you. It should be grabbed by you perfectly to be magnificent. So, move ahead to the body of the article to find everything about the irony figure of speech.

Also Read: 10 Pronunciations You Should Avoid

What is an Ironic Figure of Speech?

If you want to know about the meaning of Irony, here it is. It is a figure of speech. The irony is one of the most widely- known literary devices, which is used to express a strong emotion or raise a point.

Talking about it more, irony refers to the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of what is said. It is used in the sentence to convey something else with some other words. It shows the game and magic of words.

You must reply to a person after understanding what he/she is trying to convey. If you don’t know about irony, it’s likely that you don’t understand the sentence and will not give a perfect response.

So, learn this figure of speech to be wonderful and greater understanding.

Irony Meaning

The irony is a contradiction between words and expressions. It confuses the other person about what you said and what you meant. The irony figure of speech is characterized by contrast and incongruity between reality and appearance. You will think about the words and their actual meaning. Have a look at this example.

For example, if a traffic officer has confiscated a man’s license. Then the man can say, “Thank you, Officer, now that you have my license I can’t drive”.

In the above sentence, the man was heavily angry and irritated by the act of the traffic officer because he had confiscated the man’s license but instead of expressing his anger fairly, he used irony to thank him for the same.

Also Read: 7 Frequently Used English Phrases

Types of Irony

Three types of irony figures of speech are known. This article will give you the meaning of these irony types along with the examples. So, let’s start.

#1. Verbal Irony

The verbal irony is a contrast between what is said and what is meant. It shows the contradiction between words and expressions.

For example:

#. After looking at a student’s poor test score, the teacher says, “You will surely finish the year with the highest honours”. #. A man tastes his wife’s delicious home-cooked meal and exclaims, “I shall never eat this food ever again”. #. After they kissed, the groom, with a smile on his face, muttered to his bride, “This is the day I will always want to forget”.

#2. Situational Irony

Situational irony occurs when the audience or the reader knows more than the character about every event. Talking differently, it refers to what the character thinks is true is incongruous with what the audience knows. Let’s get it perfectly with the help of examples.

Have a look at the irony examples:

#. Dr. Johnson smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. #. Our boss, the owner of a big construction firm, cannot fix his house’s broken ceiling. #. The defence lawyer failed to acquit his son in a case.

Also Read: Why English Fluency is Important in Workspace?

#3. Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is the contrast between the actual result of a situation and what was intended or expected to happen. It shows the difference or contradiction between expectations and the outcome.

Here are some irony examples:

#. In “Saving Private Ryan”, the group of soldiers was hopeless they could find Private James Ryan alive, but the audience knew from the start that Private Ryan went on to live until his later years. #. The wife believed that her husband died in an airplane crash, but the audience was aware that the husband had survived. #. Readers knew that Caitlyn’s character in the novel “A Song for Caitlin” would eventually die but the other characters never even knew she was sick.

Also Read: 5 Tricks to Convey Your Message Smartly

Hopefully, this article has provided you with the best learning to develop your English grammar. The irony is most commonly used by English speakers to be diplomatic and professional.

If you want to know more grammar tips, content, and strategies, you should visit the Fluent Life website. The professionals will teach and guide you to be excellent at writing, reading, and speaking English and be quintessentially amazing.

The application is also available by the same name that will help you to gain every possible potential knowledge about the language and its grammar. You must learn about everything to be fluent and worthy.

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Irony Examples and Worksheets

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Table of Contents

Irony is a figure of speech and one of the most widely- known literary devices, which is used to express a strong emotion or raise a point.

As defined, Irony is the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of what is actually said.

For example, a driver whose license was confiscated by a traffic officer may say “Thank you Officer, now that you have my license I can’t drive”

In this situation, the driver was mad and irritated at what happened. But instead of directly expressing his anger, the driver used Irony i.e. thanking the officer for getting his license.

There are three types of irony. They are:

Verbal Irony

Situational irony, dramatic irony.

It is the use of words to present a meaning that is different from what the speaker says. Almost all the time, the person intentionally and knowingly uses Verbal Irony to be understood as meaning something different to what his or her words’ literal meaning.

Verbal Irony is the easiest to identify among the three types. It is also the most commonly used.

Our previous example is a kind of Verbal Irony. When the driver thanked the traffic officer, he wanted his words to mean that he was not amused at all.

Other examples are:

  • After looking at a student’s poor test score, the teacher says, “You will surely finish the year with highest honors”.
  • A man tastes his wife’s delicious home- cooked meal and exclaims, “I shall never eat this food ever again”.
  • After they kissed, the groom, with a smile on his face, muttered to his bride, “This is the day I will always want to forget”.

Situational Irony happens when what is expected and intended to happen doesn’t take place. Instead, the exact opposite occurs. The result could be either serious or comic.

This type of Irony is used adds more meaning to a situation making it more interesting and thought- provoking.

For example, a man whose house was in the woods put a booby trap to protect him from wild animals. One night, while walking, the man didn’t see the trap. He injured himself.

The booby trap was intended to protect the man but it wounded him instead. This is exactly the contrary of what was expected.

Examples are:

  • Dr. Johnson smokes a pack of cigarettes a day.
  • Our boss, the owner of a big construction firm, cannot fix his house’s broken ceiling.
  • The defence lawyer failed to acquit his son in a case.

Dramatic Irony happens when the audience or readers are aware of something, which the character of a movie or story does not know.

Oftentimes, such character acts or moves in a way, which is contrary or different from what the audience or the readers expect him or her to do.

This type of Irony creates intense feelings such as humor and suspense.

Dramatic Irony is used to convey emotions more intently. It gives the audience or readers a sense of thrill and excitement.

In a horror movie for example, the character enters a dark room while hearing a woman’s voice. The audiences don’t get scared because they knew beforehand that the woman’s voice was just that of the character’s mother.

Other examples include:

  • In “Saving Private Ryan” , the group of soldiers were hopeless they could find Private James Ryan alive, but the audience knew from the start that Private Ryan went on to live until his later years.
  • The wife believed that her husband died in an airplane crash and but the audience was aware that the husband had survived.
  • Readers knew that Caitlyn’s character in the novel “A Song for Caitlin” would eventually die but the other characters never even knew she was sick.

Irony Worksheets

This bundle contains 5 ready-to-use irony worksheets that are perfect to test student knowledge and understanding of what irony is and how it can be used. You can use these irony worksheets in the classroom with students, or with home schooled children as well.

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Irony for Kids

Have you ever listened to the song Ironic  by Alanis Morissette? If you have, then you must be familiar with its lyrics. Taking into account the song’s title, many believe that the singer portrays unfortunate incidents and not ironic situations. While this can be quite confusing for one to grasp, it’s clear that the beauty of irony lies in how it tells a story differently than one would expect. To put it simply, irony is a vast concept to discuss. It cannot be defined lightly, which is why it must be broken down into three different categories.

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What is Irony?

Irony is a popular example of a figure of speech that is used not only in literature but in everyday language as well. It is defined to be a literary device that uses words to convey a meaning that is opposite of what has been said. But irony can often be subjective, depending on the expectations made by an audience. The concept of such can also be quite confusing to many people, as what may be considered as ironic to one, may not be another. An ironic statement can sometimes be misunderstood as well, especially while communicating with children. You may also like idioms examples for kids .

fire hydrant

Types of Irony

There are three central types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic irony. Each category applies to either reality or literature, which would depend on the context of the given statement.

1. Verbal Irony

A verbal irony comes to play when a speaker says the opposite of what they really mean. In most cases, verbal irony is used to emphasize one’s thoughts that are a lot different from its literal meaning. This is the most commonly-used irony among all its types, considering how it is used in everyday conversations. Verbal irony is also greatly similar to sarcasm. What makes it different is how verbal irony can be humorous yet innocent, while sarcasm can involve a witty or derogatory attack on someone else. You may also like simple sentence examples .

  • Saying “Oh, just what I need!” when another tragedy occurs after the other.
  • Planning something big for Friday night but when the day finally comes, your mom asks you to stay home to watch your little sister, “Sure, it’s not like I had anything special planned for tonight.”
  • Coming to school really early but realizing you forgot your homework. “I guess today is my lucky day.”
  • Your parents call you out for taking so long every morning but when you’re the first to finish, “Why are you in a hurry? It’s still early.”
  • The unpopular candidate that nobody likes wins the class elections. You can overhear some students saying, “Oh gee, I kind of wished he would win.”

2. Situational Irony

This type of irony occurs when what is expected to happen does not take place. Instead, it generates the opposite action or effect. The result of such can sometimes be serious or comical. It’s an interesting scenario that allows one to really think. Imagine how ironic it would be for a teacher to fail a test. While everyone would expect one thing to happen, the outcome says otherwise. This creates an element of surprise and shock, as the situation contradicts what has been expected from it. Whether it plays out a serious or humorous outcome, it is always unexpected. You may also like preposition sentences examples

  • There’s a fire inside the fire station.
  • Traffic is congested on one side of town. How can that happen when a traffic enforcer is there to direct motorists?
  • A robber steals valuables from a police station.
  • Someone complains about the amount of time people spend on social media through a Facebook post.
  • An ambulance runs over a guy crossing the street.

3. Dramatic Irony

Think of various movies, TV shows, novels and plays where you know exactly what’s about to happen but the characters in the story do not. Sometimes, this leaves us feeling frustrated over how oblivious the lead characters can be. Action thrillers have us screaming, “Don’t go in there!” as if the actor could actually hear us. This creates intense emotions of humor and suspense that has us sitting at the edge of our seats. Dramatic irony is ideal in both comedy and tragedy because of how it builds a level of anticipation and excitement. You may also like school speeches examples .

  • In a romantic movie, the leading characters claim they don’t have any feelings towards each other. But the viewers know very well that this isn’t true.
  • A teenage pop singer disguises herself in costume to appear unrecognizable to friends and classmates. But little do people around her know that she’s been selling out stadiums and arenas every night. Truly, the best of both worlds. (Hannah Montana, anyone?)
  • An evil queen tries to hide her identity as an old witch. Movie-goers know her true identity yet the protagonist does not. Simply put, the character immediately falls into the trap of the evil queen.
  • The citizens of a town criticize a superhero for doing the job of the police. Little do they know that such superhero would save them from an intergalactic invasion later on.
  • When the bad guy hides inside the closet. The audience screams. But the main character remains unaware of what is about to happen.

Examples of Irony in Children’s Literature

One of the best things about adding irony to literature is how it’s far from predictable. It keeps readers and viewers guessing what is about to happen. Despite this, irony can be quite difficult for younger children to comprehend. But little do people realize how irony is applied even in children’s literature. This goes for children’s books, cartoons, and movies. Let’s take Spongebob Squarepants for example. You may not have thought about it back then, but isn’t it ironic how Spongebob can wash dishes with his hands, considering how he’s supposed to be a kitchen sponge? Or how there’s a beach in Bikini Bottom when the setting of the cartoon series is in the middle of the sea. While it’s meant to be a children’s TV show, the irony of the whole series is bound to open one’s mind as they grow older. You may kid-friendly idioms .

Other examples of irony in literature are as follows:

Examples #1 Harry Potter 

Witchcraft and Wizardry have always been the central point of an imagination of author J.K. Rowling in her worldwide hit series,  Harry Potter . But if you’ve been on the lookout for some forms of irony in her writing, then you may have noticed a significant few. For one, in The Sorcerer’s Stone , Professor Snape holds a deep hatred towards Harry, often pointing out how he isn’t anyone special if it wasn’t for his infamous yet incredible story. However, it was Snape who made Voldemort aware of the said prophecy, which then leads to a series of unfortunate events for Harry and his friends. You may also like hyperbole examples for kids .

After the first book of the series, a number of ironic situations took place between Snape and Harry as well. In spite of Snape’s hostility, it is revealed that Snape has been protecting and watching over Harry in his journey all along. Harry spends years trying to track and kill Voldemort, only to find out that Voldemort must kill him instead. This revelation created shock among readers and movie-goers alike, allowing one to connect every single event in the series with one another. You may also like hyperbole examples .

Examples #2 Romeo and Juliet

Romeo finds Juliet who appears to be drugged, then immediately assumes she is dead. Because of this, he decides to kill himself as well. But when Juliet awakens, it’s a second too late. She finds out that he’s dead and kills herself to be with him. A terrible end to Shakespeare’s written masterpiece depicts the death of two lovers due to mistaken assumption. The irony comes to play when what could have been a happy ending, ends in the tragic death of its main characters. You may also like kid-friendly metaphors .

Examples #3 The Wizard of Oz

If you have read or seen  The Wizard of Oz , then you know how ironic it is for young Dorothy to spend the entire duration of the story overcoming obstacles, hurdles, and battles, just to get back to Kansas. But it turns out that she had been dreaming the whole thing all along and that she had never left home in the first place.

Examples #4 Beauty and the Beast

From the very beginning of the story, it is made known to the audience that a handsome prince turns into a wicked beast because of his selfish and arrogant behavior. Everyone knows this, except for Belle. The truth was kept a secret throughout the story until the very moment Belle professes her love for the Beast, turning him back to the dashing prince that he really is. You may also like metaphor examples .

Examples #5 The Land of Stories

In this popular book series by author Chris Colfer, fiction and adventure come to life when twins Alex and Connor Bailey spend most of their time daydreaming of a world full of fairytales. Later, they discover that their grandmother is actually Mother Goose, and the world they have been dreaming about is actually real.

The irony, like  hyperbole expressions  and  similes and metaphors , has become a significant part of literary writings. It adds a layer of emotion and texture to every scene, turning a dull storyline into something thought-provoking. Through it all, using these literary tools and figurative language add to the excitement of various tales of love, comedy, and tragedy.

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20 Types of Figures of Speech, With Definitions and Examples

Parker Yamasaki

Writing is a craft. If you think of yourself as a craftsperson, then words are your raw materials, and figures of speech are one of your tools. A figure of speech is a creative use of language to generate an effect. Some figures of speech, like metaphor, simile, and metonymy, are found in everyday language. Others, like antithesis, circumlocution, and puns take more practice to implement in writing. Below are some common figures of speech with examples, so you can recognize them and use them in your writing.

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What is a figure of speech?

Language that uses figures of speech is known collectively as figurative language . You will find examples of figurative language in novels, poems, essays, and plays. The opposite of figurative language is literal language . Literal language is the type of straightforward writing you’ll find on road signs, in office memos , and in research papers .

20 types of figures of speech

1 alliteration.

Alliteration is the repeating of consonant sounds right next to each other, which creates a memorable or melodic effect.

Example: She sells seashells by the seashore.

2 Antithesis

Antithesis is a literary technique that places opposite things or ideas next to one another in order to draw out their contrast.

Example: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

3  Apostrophe

Apostrophe as a figure of speech is when a character addresses someone or something that isn’t present or cannot respond. The character might speak to someone deceased, an inanimate object, or a concept.

Example: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

4  Circumlocution

Circumlocution is the use of a purposely wordy description. You can think of it as talking in circles.

Example: In the Harry Potter series, most characters don’t say Lord Voldemort’s name; instead, they use this circumlocution: “He Who Must Not Be Named.”

An epigram is a clever and memorable statement. You will find epigrams in speeches , poetry , and at the front of a book.

Example: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

6 Euphemism

A euphemism is a way to say something in an understated manner, often to avoid difficult topics—like money, death, or sex.

Example: Death can be an uncomfortable subject, so we’ve developed many euphemisms to avoid confronting it head-on. Rather than telling a friend that a relative died, you might say they “kicked the bucket,” “passed away,” or are “no longer with us.”

7 Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration that adds emphasis, urgency, or excitement to a statement.

Example: If I don’t eat soon, I’m going to die of hunger.

Irony is a situation that subverts a reader’s expectations.

Example: One of the characters in your story is a hypochondriac, always convinced that they have an exotic and uncurable disease. An ironic ending for that character would be if they died of a common cold.

Litotes use a double negative to create a positive.

Example: You’re not wrong.

10 Metaphor

A metaphor is the direct comparison of dissimilar things to create more vivid imagery or understanding.

Example: He was an onion; to understand him, she had to peel back the layers.

11 Metonymy

Metonymy is a literary device in which a word or object stands in for a closely related word or object. Metonymy gives a writer more variability with descriptions.

Example: I thought his movies were better when they weren’t so Hollywood.

12 Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it means.

Example: When a character is exasperated, they might exclaim, “Sheesh!” That’s both a word to show exasperation and a sound that happens when you sigh loudly.

13 Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a phrase that uses two contradictory words to create a new meaning.

Example: That strawberry cake was awfully good.

A paradox is a statement that appears to contradict itself but contains some truth, theme, or humor.

Example: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” —George Orwell, Animal Farm

15 Personification

Personification is assigning human attributes to nonhuman things.

Example: The floorboards groaned under the weight of each step.

16 Pleonasm

Pleonasm is the use of more words than necessary to convey meaning. A writer might use pleonasm for humor or emphasis, or they might not realize they’re using extra words at all.

Example: The burning fire warmed the whole house.

A pun is a form of wordplay that purposely substitutes words that sound similar but have different meanings.

Example: “‘Mine is a long and a sad tale!’ said the Mouse, turning to Alice and sighing. ‘It is a long tail, certainly,’ said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; ‘but why do you call it sad?’” —Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

A  simile compares two dissimilar things using “like” or “as.” The goal of simile is to give the reader a more vivid understanding of something.

Example: It was the first real day of summer, and by the time she came back indoors, she was as red as a tomato.

19  Synecdoche

Synecdoche is when a smaller unit is used to signify a larger unit or vice versa.

Example: New England won the game by a touchdown. (Here, New England means New England’s football team.)

20 Understatement

Understatement is the intentional downplaying of a situation. This can create a humorous or deadpan effect in writing.

Example: “I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.” —J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Figures of speech examples in literature

Figures of speech are around us all the time (and that’s not hyperbole!), but it’s the deliberate deployment of them that makes writing stand out (did you catch that alliteration?). Below are examples of figures of speech in literature and poetry.

Metaphor in “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom

In her poem “Caged Bird,” Maya Angelou uses the extended metaphor of caged and free birds to display the difference between Black and White Americans.

Antithesis in Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Sethe,” he says, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.”

In this passage, Paul D. speaks to Sethe and insists she quit dwelling on her past. Morrison uses antithesis to contrast yesterday and tomorrow, which is much more effective than simply saying Sethe should stop focusing on the past.

Personification in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death

He kindly stopped for me.

By writing that death “kindly stopped” for her, Emily Dickinson uses personification to make the concept of death more vivid and tangible. The thought of death stopping by gives it an ominous but cordial tone, as if Dickinson treats it as an acquaintance.

Figures of speech FAQs

A figure of speech is a deliberate manipulation of ordinary language in order to create a literary effect.

What are the different kinds of figures of speech?

There are hundreds of figures of speech, which can be divided into schemes and tropes . Schemes are figures of speech that rearrange word order for a certain effect, while tropes use words in a way that differs from their literal meaning.

How are figures of speech used in writing?

Figures of speech are used in every type of writing to achieve different effects. Which figure of speech you use depends on what effect you want to have on the reader. For example, if you want to create more vivid imagery, you might use simile, metaphor, or antithesis. If you want to give them a laugh, you might try using a pun.

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Figures of Speech

Any deliberate departure from a literal statement or conventional use that emphasizes, clarifies, or embellishes written or spoken words can be considered a figure of speech . Figures of speech form an integral part of any language and are found in oral literatures, refined poetry and prose , as well as in ordinary speech. 

The word epigram comes from the Greek word epigramma , which meaning “inscription” or “inscription.” Epigrams are often considered clever or witty statements. 

An epigram is a short, incisive remark that usually introduces antithetical ideas in order to startle and captivate the listener. Unlike antithesis, they have the ability to surprise and grab the attention of the reader/listener. 

Epigram is frequently utilized in poetry, where it appears as a brief satirical poem with a single theme that concludes with a clever or witty idea. During the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, poets such as Alexander Pope, John Donne, William Shakespeare, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge popularized epigram as a figure of speech. Epigrams, according to Jane Wilde, an Irish poet, were far superior to an argumentative speech. 



  • “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” 
  • “The child is the father of the man.” 
  • “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” 

Irony is a figure of speech in which seemingly conflicting statements or events reveal a reality that isn’t what it appears to be. In literature, there are different types of irony. The reader’s expectations and knowledge of the gap between what “should” happen and what “really” happens in a literary work determine the effectiveness of irony as a literary device. This can take the shape of an unexpected event’s outcome, a character’s unexpected action, or something discordant uttered. 

Mark Antony’s speech after Caesar’s demise in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar can be seen as an instance that has made the best use of irony in English literature. 

  • “O my love, my wife! Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.” 
  • “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” 
  • “Whosever room this is should be ashamed! Donald or Robert or Willie or—Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear, I knew it looked familiar!” 

A pun , commonly known as a “play on words,” is a figure of speech that has words that sound similar or identical yet have diverse meanings. Puns are usually intended to be funny, but in literary works, they can sometimes serve a serious purpose. 

To put it simply, a pun is when a word is used in such a manner that it can be used in multiple ways, with the goal of creating a hilarious impact. 

  • “An ambassador is an honest man who lies abroad for the good of his country.” 
  • “Is life worth living? -It depends on the liver.” 
  • “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” 


The figure of speech that uses a part of something is used to designate the whole, or vice versa rhetorically is known as synecdoche . It comes from the Greek term synekdoche , which means “simultaneous meaning.” Synecdoche can also be used in reverse with the greater total standing in for a smaller part of something. It allows writers to express a word or idea diversely by utilizing a part of it and provides for a wide range of expressions, giving the reader something to think about. 

Synecdoche is a subset of metonymy .   Synecdoche and metonymy are both considered as forms of  metaphors since they include the replacement of one term for another, which necessitates a conceptual link. When a human element is substituted for a non-human institution, such as when alluding to a weapon falling into “the wrong hands,” synecdoche might be defined as a sort of personification. The human element of “hands” stands for an opposing group in this situation. 

  • Give us this day our daily bread (i.e., food). 
  • Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. 
  • Brazil (i.e., the Brazil football team) defeated Portugal 3-0 in yesterday’s football match. 

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    Irony Examples In Literature. "Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honorable man" - Julius Caesar. Romeo returns to Verona and he finds Juliet drugged, in a death-like sleep. He assumes she is dead and kills himself. When Juliet wakes up and finds him dead, she kills herself with his knife - Romeo and Juliet.

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    Example 4: 1984 by George Orwell. War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. There are several types of irony involved in the novel, 1984, by George Orwell. The very first example is the slogan given at the beginning of the novel. This slogan is " War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.".

  6. Verbal Irony: 9 Examples that Will Make You Smirk

    Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the literal meaning of what someone is saying is different from what they really mean. For example, someone saying "Just what I needed", after spilling coffee on their shirt on the way to an important meeting. It is often used to make a point or to express sarcasm, both in literature and in ...

  7. Irony

    Irony is a rhetorical device that is used to express an intended meaning by using language that conveys the opposite meaning when taken literally. The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines the term 'irony' as "the use of words that say the opposite of what you really mean, often as a joke and with a tone of voice that shows this".

  8. Unveiling Irony: Defining This Figure of Speech With Engaging And Clear

    Here are some examples of Irony with explanations: "His argument was as clear as mud.". Explanation: This is an example of verbal irony. The phrase "clear as mud" is a figurative expression that means something is confusing or unclear. When someone says, "His argument was as clear as mud," it's ironic because it suggests the ...

  9. Irony: Definition, Types and Useful Examples • 7ESL

    Irony Irony Definition. Irony is a form of the figure of speech in which the person delivering the ironic statement says something which is completely opposite to what they mean or what the reality of the situation is. Irony can also be used to set the tone of a situation without the use of any speech at all. Irony can be used in a sarcastic sense to display the opposite meaning of what is ...

  10. What Is Irony in Writing? Common Types and Examples

    Widespread but widely misunderstood, irony turns an audience's expectation on its face. Irony can be sad, comical, or both, and it's commonplace in storytelling and conversation. If you're alive to it, you can also find irony quietly running through daily life. There are several different types of irony a crafty writer has

  11. 20 Irony Examples: In Literature and Real Life

    Quick Reminder of What Irony Is. Irony is a rhetorical device in which the appearance of something is opposite to its reality.. There are four main types of irony: verbal irony, dramatic irony, situational irony, and Socratic irony.Socratic irony is not a literary device, and therefore we will not be looking at examples, but it is worth being aware of.

  12. Irony

    Types of Irony and Examples. As with some other figures of speech Opens in new window, Irony brings about some added meanings to a situation. Ironical statements and situations in literature develop readers' interest. Irony makes a work of literature more intriguing and forces the readers to use their imagination and comprehend the underlying meanings of the texts.

  13. Irony Figure of Speech

    Verbal irony is a figure of speech where the speaker says the exact opposite of what he or she intends. Some writers use verbal irony to indirectly criticise or mock. Daily Grammar Test - Attempt Now Dramatic irony is a figure of speech where the audience or the reader knows more about the outcome of the story than the character in a film, novel or play.

  14. Irony: definition, types, and examples

    It's a figure of speech used to emphasize the contrast in meanings. It's often used as a way of injecting witty humor into someone's speech or writing. There are many English expressions that epitomize verbal irony. Here are a few: • "Fat chance!". • "Clear as mud". • "As soft as concrete".

  15. Irony: Definition and Examples

    Irony (pronounced 'eye-run-ee') is when there are two contradicting meanings of the same situation, event, image, sentence, phrase, or story. In many cases, this refers to the difference between expectations and reality. For example, if you go sight-seeing anywhere in the world today, you will see crowds of people who are so busy taking ...

  16. What Is Irony? Irony Examples and More

    You arrived 10 minutes late to the movies and missed the first scene. You turn to your friend and say, "This is the worst day of my life!" This is an example of overstatement or hyperbole.In this form of verbal irony, your statement is more dramatic than the situation requires.Its literal meaning is much more dramatic than the situation needs, which emphasizes the point.

  17. 15+ Irony Examples You Don't Need (Because You're the Expert)

    Another good example of real-life irony is when a picture of a school's sign went viral because it included a misspelled word — "We are committed to excellense .". The heavy irony here is that you'd expect a school to proofread their own sign. Final point…. In 2019, a fire station in Long Island caught on fire.

  18. Irony Figure of Speech: Let's Learn about a Significant Aspect of

    It is a figure of speech. The irony is one of the most widely- known literary devices, which is used to express a strong emotion or raise a point. Talking about it more, irony refers to the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of what is said. It is used in the sentence to convey something else with some other words.

  19. Irony

    irony, linguistic and literary device, in spoken or written form, in which real meaning is concealed or contradicted.That may be the result of the literal, ostensible meaning of words contradicting their actual meaning (verbal irony) or of a structural incongruity between what is expected and what occurs (dramatic irony). Verbal irony arises from a sophisticated or resigned awareness of ...

  20. Irony Examples, Definition and Worksheets

    Irony is a figure of speech and one of the most widely- known literary devices, which is used to express a strong emotion or raise a point. As defined, Irony is the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of what is actually said. For example, a driver whose license was confiscated by a traffic officer may say "Thank you Officer ...

  21. Irony for Kids

    What is Irony? Irony is a popular example of a figure of speech that is used not only in literature but in everyday language as well. It is defined to be a literary device that uses words to convey a meaning that is opposite of what has been said. But irony can often be subjective, depending on the expectations made by an audience.

  22. 20 Types of Figures of Speech, With Definitions and Examples

    Some figures of speech, like metaphor, simile, and metonymy, are found in everyday language. Others, like antithesis, circumlocution, and puns take more practice to implement in writing. Below are some common figures of speech with examples, so you can recognize them and use them in your writing. Give your writing extra polish.

  23. Figures of Speech

    Synecdoche: The figure of speech that uses a part of something is used to designate the whole, or vice versa rhetorically is known as synecdoche. It comes from the Greek term synekdoche, which means "simultaneous meaning.". Synecdoche can also be used in reverse with the greater total standing in for a smaller part of something.