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 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 Irony
- Verbal irony
- Situational irony
- Dramatic 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]
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]
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]
Concepts Related to Situational Irony:
- Poetic Irony also known as Poetic Justice
- Cosmic Irony
[For More Examples of Irony See: Irony Examples]