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The 3 Types of Irony

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]

{ 39 comments… add one }
  • Amna Ijaz December 4, 2013, 12:27 pm

    it’s a good and informative page, i got the required material for my notes through this page.

    • Jesi February 6, 2014, 11:36 pm

      I agree with you

      • myesha joseph May 5, 2014, 3:34 pm

        i agree 2 my teacher needs 2 know about this website

    • crystalmarshall November 18, 2014, 2:09 pm

      hi what does verbal, situational, and dramatic irony mean can you please tell me.

  • rabya January 14, 2014, 9:56 am

    i need examples for 8 standard of institutional irony and dramatic irony

  • John Smith January 29, 2014, 4:00 pm

    There is a grammar mistake here:

    Examples of verbal irony include:

    “Thanks for the ticket officer you just made my day!”

    There needs to be a comma between officer and you, like so;

    “Thanks for the ticket officer, you just made my day!”

    • anon March 6, 2014, 2:03 am

      grammar nazi

      • Tea Jay September 5, 2014, 9:43 am

        Dang right, he’s a grammar nazi. That’s why he’s doing well in lit.

    • numenah April 4, 2014, 4:16 pm

      Ironically, John Smith, your correction is also ungrammatical. The original sentence should be punctuated as follows: Thanks for the ticket, officer. You just made my day!

      • JC October 9, 2014, 3:45 am

        Maybe he meant to do that, because he’s very very clever, making use of the subject of irony.

    • myesha joseph May 5, 2014, 3:35 pm

      truuuuuuuuuuuu!

    • Anonymous May 9, 2014, 3:56 am

      Those are actually two separate sentences. So it should be…
      “Thanks for the ticket, officer. You just made my day.”

    • English Teacher May 12, 2014, 6:00 pm

      Actually the punctuation missing is a period, not a comma.

      • Englishmajorproblems September 21, 2014, 6:11 pm

        You mean missing punctuation; adjectives go before what they modify.

        Way to go English Teacher?

    • Mom August 24, 2014, 11:38 pm

      Thanks for the ticket, officer; you just made my day!

      • Englishmajorproblems September 21, 2014, 5:58 pm

        Actually, several of the rewrites listed are correct; it’s a matter of style. Semicolons are generally not used in journalistic writing, but are an acceptable means of joining two related sentences. By joining them with a semicolon, the writer can emphasize their sarcastic tone.

        However, you all forgot to capitalize Officer. In this instance, when you are speaking directly, “Officer” is a term of respect, like “Sir,” “Lord,” “Professor,” Doctor,” etc.

        • YeahDitto December 8, 2014, 10:59 pm

          I was wondering who would catch that “O”, so glad someone did.

  • Lily Chase February 4, 2014, 11:30 pm

    Life saver!!!! My English teacher would love this website.

    • Katy December 7, 2016, 2:12 pm

      This English teacher does!

  • Jesi February 6, 2014, 11:35 pm

    thank you I needed this for my homework I want to ask is there only 3 types of irony or there is more

  • Jesi February 6, 2014, 11:36 pm

    I think the same way as you do Amna ljaz

  • Alan February 10, 2014, 6:02 am

    Thanks for the info I needed this information or mrs jobes would of gave me a F

  • Sasiras March 12, 2014, 4:56 am

    I’d like to know who wrote this texts?
    I’ve to reference it in my thesis.

    • Bamboo September 10, 2014, 12:44 pm

      Agree with you!!!

  • bob saget March 21, 2014, 8:11 pm

    Grammar misttaaaakkke

    “There is however a difference between situation irony and coincidence or bad luck.”
    Should be:
    “There is, however, a difference between situation irony and coincidence or bad luck.”

    • Tourettes guy June 11, 2014, 11:16 pm

      OH BOB SAGET!

  • NICHO July 1, 2014, 2:50 am

    I truly agree

  • Zazu July 9, 2014, 10:22 pm

    isnt there another form of irony called socratic irony?

    • Loopy Doo October 10, 2014, 6:37 am

      It’s only talking about the 3 basic and most commonly used types of irony.

  • Zazu July 9, 2014, 10:26 pm

    I’m only asking because my english teacher wanted me to name and define the three types of irony, and while i was researching, i came across one called socratic irony

    • admin July 10, 2014, 3:00 am

      The three major types of irony are outlined here. “Socratic Irony” is a minor type or irony, and by some definitions, really isn’t irony at all.

  • Laurette September 25, 2014, 12:37 am

    Didn’t anyone notice that the last sentence is missing the word to between unlikely and happen.

  • Matthew September 26, 2014, 7:04 pm

    I love verbal irony, and use it in every day life.

    Except the person who wrote this article, needs to learn what sarcasm is.

    “Use of irony, to mock or convey contempt.”

    Contempt is “an emotion that is a combination of both anger and disgust.”

    “Thanks for the ticket officer you just made my day!” That is sarcasm… unless someone really does enjoy getting tickets…

    “I can’t wait to read the seven hundred page report.” Also sarcasm because it is conveying contempt… unless someone really does enjoy reading a seven-hundred page report.

    “Great, someone stained my new dress.” Looking only at the word “great,” it is being used sarcastically, to convey contempt.

    “You call this a work of art?” This one is actually trickier. Yes, this question can be asked in a sarcastic manner, but it also doesn’t have to be asked in a sarcastic manner either. Thus, this question, without proper context, is not inherently sarcastic, like this article would have you believe.

    I’ve studied this stuff intensively and thoroughly.

    For fun, here is another form of verbal irony: oxymoron.

    • YeahDitto December 8, 2014, 11:05 pm

      I was thinking the same thing too!

  • a person November 6, 2014, 8:16 am

    gosh why are you guys arguing about his mistakes? he messed up. not a huge deal

  • crystalmarshall November 18, 2014, 2:11 pm

    i know

  • Qasim Palli November 30, 2014, 11:10 am

    trueeeeeeee!

  • Batman December 11, 2014, 10:48 pm

    Very helpful.

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