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Verbal Irony

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jay Williams September 16, 2013, 1:35 am

    I love how you described all of this! xD I was really surprised by the jokes you made. I found that your definitions and examples were really easy to understand, and I was actually kinda enjoying doing my homework for a while there… 😛 Thanks

  • BB December 15, 2013, 5:18 pm

    hey! i didn’t quite understand the difference between sarcasm and verbal irony. is sarcasm a type of irony after all?

    • johnaiah freelon March 27, 2014, 5:58 pm


  • TG December 17, 2013, 5:28 pm

    Very informative, but the vulgar diction at the beginning seems inappropriate for the formality of the rest of the article. Overall, an excellent resource. 🙂

  • Hagerty English June 7, 2014, 9:27 am

    I believe the diction may have been intentionally used by the author of this post to convey an example of situational irony. The shift in tone certainly got my attention because after reading prior pages, I did not expect to see the word “dick.” A clarification: Juliet not only adores, but also has secretly married Romeo, who has just left Juliet’s chamber, prior to her comment to her mother.

  • Space Laces June 18, 2014, 1:44 am

    Isn’t this an oxymoron? Pretty sure the examples you gave were oxymorons

    • Estella October 16, 2014, 4:27 am

      I think it is not the same. Well, the example “soft like concrete” is an oxymoron. However, the other examples like Juliet and Romeo can’t be an oxymoron at all.

  • dong June 24, 2014, 5:26 pm

    can you please explain how this plays a role/ its importance in a drama/story/ plot? same goes for the situational irony. thanks a lot!! 🙂

  • Cat September 20, 2014, 4:11 pm

    another good example would be I love you like a heart attack. A boyfriend used to say that to me sometimes. He’s dead now.

    • A. T. Watt September 20, 2014, 7:46 pm

      Did he die from a heart attack?

      • lizzie October 21, 2014, 9:11 pm

        That`s what I didn’t get either 🙂 🙂

  • lizzie October 21, 2014, 9:09 pm

    This was awesome for the first time I finished and did my homework AWESOME:-) 🙂 :-)!!!

    • yolo October 31, 2014, 4:22 pm

      yeah it was awesome !

  • :)))) October 22, 2014, 9:09 pm


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