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Irony is a literary technique & rhetoric device that has been used for many years in speech, art and everyday life. Although irony has been used for a long time, there hasn’t been an exact definition of irony. There have been hundreds of definitions suggested over the years, however, a general consensus is that:

Irony Definition

Irony is a figure of speech which is a contradiction or incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs.

Most of the definitions of irony are something along these lines, though there is often disagreement about the specific meaning of this term.

There are Three Types of Ironyteacher-talking-about-the-types-of-irony

  • Verbal irony
  • Situational irony
  • Dramatic irony

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is the use of words to mean something different from what a person actually says.

The main feature of verbal irony that sets it apart from the other different types of irony is that it is used by a speaker intentionally. It occurs in a conversation where a person aims to be understood as meaning something different to what his or her words literally mean.

Examples of verbal irony include:

“Thanks for the ticket officer you just made my day!”
“I can’t wait to read the seven hundred page report.”

The above examples show how irony is used to show someone’s frustration or disappointment.

There are two types of verbal irony:

Overstatement – when a person exaggerates the character of something.
Understatement – when a person undermines the character of something.

Verbal Irony and Sarcasm

Most of the time, sarcasm and verbal irony are used interchangeably. There is however a clear distinction between the two.

In most cases, sarcasm is used to insult or to cause harm.

A statement like “Great, someone stained my new dress.” is ironic, while “You call this a work of art?” is sarcastic.

While verbal irony implies a different meaning to what is actually said, sarcasm is mainly used as a sharp and direct utterance designed to cause pain.

[For More See: Verbal Irony]

Dramatic Irony

This type of irony is popular in works of art such as movies, books, poems and plays.

It occurs when the audience is aware of something that the characters in the story are not aware of.

An example of dramatic irony is in a movie where a detective does not know that the criminal responsible for the crimes in the city is his partner. The audience however is already aware of this fact and waits anxiously to know what will happen once the character finds out what they already know.

There are three stages of dramatic irony:

Installation – audience is informed of something the character does not know about
Exploitation – using this information to develop curiosity among the audience
Resolution – what happens when the character finally finds out what is going on?

A special category of dramatic irony is tragic irony.

Tragic irony occurs when a character in a play does or says something that communicates a meaning unknown to her but recognized by the audience.

An example of tragic irony is when a character orders poisoned food that is supposed to kill him or her and the audience already knows that the character is destined to die from food poisoning.

Tragic irony was common in plays that depicted the lives of legends in ancient Greece.

The audience already knew the fate of the characters before they watched the play.

[For More See: Dramatic Irony]

Situational Irony

It involves a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens.

Situational irony occurs when the exact opposite of what is meant to happen, happens.

An example would be when someone buys a gun to protect himself, but the same gun is used by another individual to injure him. One would expect that the gun would keep him safe, but it has actually caused him injury.

There is however a difference between situational irony and coincidence or bad luck.

When someone washes his car and it rains, that is just bad luck; nothing led him or her to think that it would not rain. However, when a TV weather presenter gets caught in an unexpected storm, it is ironic because he or she is expected to know the exact weather changes.

For situational irony to occur there has to be something that leads a person to think that a particular event or situation is unlikely happen.

[For More See: Situational Irony]

[For More Examples of Irony See: Irony Examples]

In a general sense, irony is a rhetorical device that is characterized by incongruity in the real situation and what is expected. The deliberate use of irony, especially in literary works and speeches, is used to emphasize a point. It is a language that in some of its forms understates facts, denies the contrary of the truth, or states the opposite of the truth. In all it’s forms, it elicits a similar effect to the audience. There are many types of irony used as literary devices, but we shall focus only on three: verbal, dramatic and situational irony.

Verbal Irony Examples

When there is an incongruity between what is stated and what is. Generally, one of the two elements is an antithesis to the other, creating an ironic contradiction. Here are some examples of verbal irony:

  • A man looked out of the window to see the storm intensify. He turned to his friend and said “wonderful weather we’re having!”
  • Simple phrases, usually in the form of similes, with obvious incongruities ie: clear as mud, smooth as sandpaper, friendly as a coiled rattlesnake
  • In literature, Mark Antony’s speech following the assassination of Cesar is an excellent classic example. Mark Antony praises the assassin Brutus as an ambitious and honorable man while at the same time condemning him.
  • Exclaiming “oh great” after failing an exam
  • As pleasant as a tooth canal
  • As sunny as a winter day in Alaska
  • This steal is a tender as a leather shoe
  • The weather is as cool as a summer day in the Midwest
  • In the Scarlett Letter, Dimmesdale’s confession and discussion of his congregation that was meant to get him to be shunned only led to the people to so the opposite

Verbal irony involves speakers’ intentional contradictory propositions in his or her word choice.

Dramatic Irony Examples

Dramatic irony is much seen in plays and movies as a powerful plot device that directly involves the audience and spectators. Usually in the case, the audience have more knowledge than the protagonist, which allows them to see ironic situations more clearly.

Examples of dramatic irony:

  • In Shakespeare’s Oedipus Rex, the audience are aware that Oedipus’s journey to find the murderer will be fruitless because he himself is the murderer
  • In King Lear, the audience knows from the beginning that Lear’s loyal daughter is Cordelia, but Lear does not see this
  • In the Truman show, the audience know that the show for what it is, a show. However, Truman only learns this as the show progresses
  • In Romeo and Juliet, the former thinks Juliet is dead, buy the audience know that she only took a sleeping potion
  • In Othello, audiences know that Iago is plotting the downfall of Othello while Othello himself is unaware.
  • In Star Wars, the audience know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, but Luke does not know until episode V
  • In Breaking Bad, Schraeder is looking for a crystal meth producer who happens to be his brother in law. However, only the audience knows this fact, not Schrader
  • In horror movies, the audience is aware that there is a killer in the house, but the character does not and they proceed to enter
  • In Hamlet, people know that Hamlet is not really mad and that he knows the full truth about his father’s murder.
  • In Toy Story, human characters are not aware that the toys speak and move while the audience is aware

Dramatic irony generally has great impact on the audience in terms of being engaged with the performance. By allowing them in on a secret or allowing them to have more knowledge than the characters, the irony keeps them anticipating.

Situational Irony Examples

This happens as a result of disparity between intention and results. As an ironic outcome happens as a result happens to be contrary to the intention. It is also called event irony an the outcome is sometimes humorous.

Examples of situational irony:

  • A marriage counselor filed for divorce
  • A teacher failed a test
  • Gunpowder was discovers in the process of looking for the elixir for immortality
  • In The Gift of Magi by O. Henry, the wife cuts her hair to sell it in order to have the money to buy her husband a pocket watch chain. The husband then sells the watch to buy her a hair accessory.
  • Fahrenheit 451 is in the top 100 banned books in the US
  • An anti technology website
  • A fire station burns down
  • A traffic cop got his license suspended due to unpaid tickets
  • A pilot with a fear of heights
  • A couple seeking divorce rediscover their love for each other run the process of filing for divorce
  • In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s father only fulfills the prophecy of him being killed by his own son after trying to avoid it and sending him away
  • Robbery at a police station
  • A post on Facebook about how useless it now is
  • Being thirsty in the sea
  • A fertility counselor struggles to get pregnant
  • A hungry cook
  • A shoemaker without shoes

Sometimes humorous, this type of irony is a useful literary device that can be used in everyday conversations.


Irony is a powerful tool in literature and writing. When used correctly, it has the power to connect to the audience on a whole other level that could not have been otherwise established. Verbal irony is a contradiction between the current situation and what the speaker explicitly expresses. The contradiction has the power to emphasize on the seriousness of the situation. In dramatic irony, the audience are given the upper hand in having a bit more information about the characters. In this case, they know a critical piece if fact that the character does not. Situational irony is one which entails a discrepancy between the character’s intentions and the outcome. The two usually contradict each other to create a humorous effect.

In literary works, and so abundantly in Shakespeare’s literature, the use of irony is used to create a powerful impact on the message. It creates an exceptional uniqueness in speech and literature when used by creating a sort of a puzzle in the reader and the audience’s mind. It has the same effect on speeches as well by driving the intended point home by employing he device’s contrasting nature. Above is an insight with this respect.

Dramatic Irony Definition

A plot device to create situations where the reader knows much more about the episodes and the resolutions before the chief character or characters. 

Dramatic irony is a stylistic device that is most commonly used by storytellers, in plays, in the theater, and in movies.

For example, the reader may be already aware that a character is relying on deceitful characters, is making suicidal decisions, or is going to be killed, but the particular character and some other characters may not know these facts. The actions and words of characters will therefore mean different things to readers and audiences from what they mean to story and play characters. As a speech device, dramatic irony is used to embellish, emphasize, and to convey moods and emotions more effectively.

Important Uses of Dramatic Irony

This form of irony is considered by many writers as a potent tool for exciting and sustaining the interest of readers and audiences. The irony creates a big contrast between the immediate situation of the character and the episodes that will follow, and therefore, generating curiosity.

By allowing the reader and audience to know more things ahead of the characters, the irony puts the reader and audience superiorly above the characters and encourages them to hope, to fear, and anticipate the moment when the character would find out the truth behind the situations and events of the story.

Usually, the irony lies in the back-stories and scenes that the character is not involved in; in the misunderstandings amongst characters; and in the brazen deceptions that the readers and audiences are aware of but the characters do not know.

Dramatic irony is also used more often in the tragedies. In such stories, the readers and audiences are pushed to sympathize with the characters all the way to the tragic end. The irony is used to emphasize the fatality of limited understanding even on innocent and honest people, and to demonstrate the painful repercussions of misunderstandings. The characters in the story or play will remain ignorant about the bad fate while the reader or audience knows about the heartbreaking end.

Examples of Dramatic Irony in Literature

One of the most widely known examples of the irony comes from Oedipus Rex, a play by Sophocles in early Greece. Oedipus is blind of the facts that he has killed his blood father and committed shameful incest with his blood mother. So, when Oedipus confidently tells Creon, his brother-in-law, that only a foolish man can commit gravely sins against his family and expect mercy from the gods, both the reader and audience understand the implications of his words better than he does.
Shakespeare’s plays abound with dramatic irony.

In Merchant of Venice, the reader is aware that Lancelot is cheating his father openly; in Tempest, Prospero and the reader are aware of the presence of Gonzalo on the Island but Miranda does not.

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo finds Juliet in deep and drugged slumber, assumes her dead, kills himself ignorantly before Juliet wakes up, discovers her dead lover and kills herself.

In the Animal Farm by George Orwell, the readers are aware of much more facts than the animals. For instance, the readers know that the pigs have spent the money they got from selling Boxer to the slaughter to purchase whiskey.
Dramatic irony involves the reader, raises expectations, intensifies episodes, and propels stories forward.

If you have any questions or comments, go ahead and leave them in the comments section below.

Situational Irony Definition

Situational irony occurs when the final outcome is contradictory to what was expected.

Usually, the episodes in the plot of a story will lead the audience to expect a particular resolution or ending. If such an expected outcome fails and instead another contrary outcome occurs, the absurdity is termed situational irony. Such a form of irony is the result a discrepancy in perspective, such that what is known and expected at one moment differs with what is known later on. Some might only consider situational irony to be ironic rarely if at all. Rather, in most cases, it seems more like coincidence.

Simple Examples of Situational Irony

If two couples who are known to have irreconcilable differences move to court to conclude their divorce, people would expect nothing less. If by a twist the couples suddenly discover a bond of love during court proceedings and decide to remarry instead, that would be called situational irony.

Two young men leave for a volleyball game at the stadium on a Saturday afternoon. They are carrying a fixture indicating that there would be a volleyball match and are confident of watching their team win. On arriving at the stadium, they instead find a spectacular soccer match on course and learn that the volleyball game would be played on Sunday afternoon. That would be a disappointing situational irony.

A woman has been saving painfully to buy a golden watch. Just hours after buying the watch, her daughter arrives home with the same watch as a gift for her!

A man branches from the main road to avoid being hit by a speeding car and is suddenly hit by a truck!

Examples of Situational Irony in Literature

This form of irony is commonly used to emphasize important scenes and to make unusual images more vivid. Usually, writers use strong word associations with this form of irony and add variation, fresh thoughts, and adornment to their literary pieces. Situational irony also ranges in usage from the most comic situations to the most tragic.

The comical use of this form of irony will usually create unexpected reversal in the plot for the better. In Tartuffe by Moliere, the climactic moment in marked by a successful conning of Orgon, Tartuffe’s benefactor, to title his property in Tartuffe’s name. Tartuffe goes to Orgon’s house together with an officer to finalize the eviction order on Orgon’s family, and sharply, it turns out that he is arrested and driven to jail as a crook. The king had by a careful review of cases presented at the royal court discovered Tartuffe’s criminal activity. The readers and audience are met by a surprising situational irony.

Sometimes, situational ironies occur just because people perceive certain events to be odd and unfair. For instance, if a competition of executives is called and Bill Gates, the president of Microsoft is entered, he would be cheered on by supporters to win. What if after the final draw he is announced the winner and the prize given to him is a computer system from Microsoft? To many people, such a prize would be ironic because they believe strongly that Bill Gates does not need to compete for Microsoft-made computers.

If you want to ask any questions or add to the discussion about situational irony, feel free to leave a comment below.

Verbal Irony Definition

Verbal irony occurs when speakers say the opposite of what they mean.

For example: a man may say loudly to a manifestly unattractive woman, “You are more than beautiful!” This guy is obviously a jerk. An ironic jerk.

Verbal ironies are mainly the intentional products of speakers. The speakers say what is intentionally contradictory to their actions and emotions. There are many ironic similes that convey the opposite of what speakers intend to express.

Further examples include:

  • soft like concrete
  • clear like mud
  • pleasant like a root canal
  • relaxed like a coiled rattlesnake

The irony can be discovered by examining the original nature of the objects involved. Mud is opaque, concrete is hard, and root canal surgeries are painful.

Verbal ironies are common in daily conversations and come out as the most ordinary form of irony – sarcasm. You just walk past a woman whose milk has just spilt over and she exclaims “Oh that was great!” This form of irony is the simplest and only involves equating two individuals talking to each other. It does not require third parties to be qualified.

Verbal irony relies on timing to achieve their effect. If the ironic statement comes too early or too late in the conversation, is not suited to the circumstances, or is spoken with incorrect tone, it will only serve to confuse the other person or may just be considered offensive. Keep in mind that while all sarcasm is rooted in irony, not all verbal irony is sarcasm.

Irony, therefore, requires that the circumstances are properly understood, the timing is correct, and the right attitude is projected. Otherwise, you might be taken literally which is the opposite of what you intended. How ironic.

Examples of Verbal Irony

Verbal ironies are common in the dealings between parents and their kids. When kids do certain things that are annoying to their parents, the parents may instead of revealing their annoyance in words just brush aside the child’s action through ironic statements. A mother who comes upon a child playing before completing homework may just give the child a stern look and then say, “After you complete your most important activities, make sure that you play around with some chemistry problems.”

In other occasions, children might be playing around the dinner table instead of eating. This will be annoying to their parents. Instead of the parent hitting the child back to sense, like any Parent of the Year candidate should, she may just say, “Just continue playing your thrilling game and eat your food later on when you feel really hungry!”

This is mostly ironic because this upstanding parent obviously doesn’t intend on actually providing her children with food later should they continue playing their game. They will starve which ironically adds an additional edge of “thrill” to their current game. Their Hunger Game, if you will.

Verbal Irony In Literature

Literature is also full of verbal irony examples. For example, in Act III of Scene V, of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is irritated by her father’s decision to hand her over in marriage to Paris whom she does not love instead of Romeo whom she adores. She decides that she will marry Romeo and expresses her desire to her mother ironically; saying that she was not going to marry yet, but when she will marry it will be to Romeo whom she hates, and not Paris.

When Shakespeare introduces his two antagonistic families in Romeo and Juliet, he calls them two households that are alike in dignity. The reader may think that the two families are both honorable and dignified only to discover later on in the play that the families are violently competitive and undignified.

In the Shrek movie, there are spats between Shrek and a donkey in which the donkey asks Shrek for accommodation. Shrek accepts by saying, “Of course!” Yet when the donkey responds by asking, “Really?” Shrek denies ever accepting.

That was a brief, but convoluted explanation of verbal irony. If you have any questions, go ahead and ask them in the comments here so everyone can benefit from the discussion.

Contrary to popular belief, “ironical” is indeed a real word. Ironically, it has the exact same meaning and use as the word “ironic.” And yes, I know that probably isn’t the best use of the word “ironically.” Ironically, I don’t care.

Don’t believe me? Maybe Merriam-Webster will do a better job of convincing you. Here is their entry for “ironical.”

Definition of IRONIC

1: relating to, containing, or constituting irony <an ironic remark> <an ironic coincidence>
2: given to irony <an ironic sense of humor>

Variants of IRONIC

iron·ic also iron·i·cal

Ironical vs Ironic

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the usage of this word, but I assure you that in all circumstances where “ironic” can be used, “ironical” can be used as well. “Ironical” is considered archaic, but its usage depends only on the preference of the person using it. It’s not so much “ironic vs ironical,” as much as “ironic = ironical.”

Examples of usage:

I was sixteen then, and I’m seventeen now, and sometimes I act like I’m about thirteen. It’s really ironical, because I’m six foot two and a half and I have gray hair. I really do.

Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Sallinger

If it’s good enough for Holden Caulfield, it’s good enough for me.

And let’s not forget this one from the fine film Good Will Hunting

Sean (Robin Williams): “Got this flyer the other day. Says, uh…, class of ’72’s having a reunion in six months.”

Gerry (Stellan Skarsgård): “Yeah, I got one of those too.”

Sean: “Why don’t you come; I’ll buy you a drink.”

Gerry: “The drinks at those things are free.”

Sean: “I know, Gerry. I was being ironical.” (emphasis mine)

<laughs are had all around>

end scene.

If that doesn’t convince you that ironical is a word, I don’t know what will.