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What is Irony? | Definition & Examples

"what is irony": a guide for english students and teachers.

View the Full Series: The Oregon State Guide to Literary Terms

What is Irony? - Transcription (English and Spanish Subtitles Available in the Video. Click HERE for the Spanish transcript)

By Raymond Malewitz , Oregon State University Associate Professor of American Literature

As we transition from childhood into adulthood, we begin to realize that things, people, and events are often not what they appear to be.  At times, this realization can be funny, but it can also be disturbing or confusing.  Children often recoil at this murky confusion, preferring a simple world in which what you see is what you get.  Adults, on the other hand, often LOVE this confusion-- so much so that we often tell ourselves stories just to conjure up this state.  Whether we run from it or savor it, make no mistake: “irony” is a dominant feature of our lives.

In simplest terms, irony occurs in literature AND in life whenever a person says something or does something that departs from what they (or we) expect them to say or do. Just as there are countless ways of misunderstanding the world [sorry kids], there are many different kinds of irony.  The three most common kinds you’ll find in literature classrooms are verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony .

Verbal irony occurs whenever a speaker or narrator tells us something that differs from what they mean, what they intend, or what the situation requires.  Many popular internet memes capitalize upon this difference, as in this example.


Irony image of dog "This is Fine." Meme

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado” offers a more complex example of verbal irony.  In the story, a man named Montresor lures another man named Fortunato into the catacombs beneath his house by appearing to ask him for advice on a recent wine purchase.  In reality, he means to murder him.  Brutally.  By walling him up in those catacombs [spoiler alert]!

As the two men travel deeper underground, Fortunato has a coughing fit.  Montresor appears to comfort him in the following richly ironic exchange:

“Come,” I said with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious.  You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as I once was.  You are a man to be missed.  For me it is no matter.  We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible…”

            “Enough,” [Fortunato] said, “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me.  I shall not die of a cough.”

            “True—true,” I replied.”


Image of Poe's Cask of Amontillado I

If we only paid attention to the appearance of Montresor’s words, we would think he was genuinely concerned with poor Fortunato’s health as he hacks up a lung.  We would also think that Montresor was trying to be nice to Fortunato by agreeing with him that he won’t die of a cough.  But knowing Montresor’s true intentions, which he reveals at the start of the story, we are able to understand the verbal irony that colors these assurances.  Fortunato won’t die of a cough, Montresor knows, but he will definitely die.

This scene is also a great example of dramatic irony .  Dramatic irony occurs whenever a character in a story is deprived of an important piece of information that governs the plot that surrounds them.  Fortunato, in this case, believes that Montresor is a friendly schlub with a terrible wine palette and a curious habit of storing his wine near the dead bodies of his ancestors. The pleasure of reading the story stems in part from knowing what he doesn’t—that he’s walking into Montresor’s trap.  We delight, in other words, in the ironic difference between our complex way of understanding of the world and Fortunato’s simple worldview.

Finally, the story also includes, arguably, a great example of situational irony .  As its name suggests, situational irony occurs when characters’ intentions are foiled, when people do certain things to bring about an intended result, but in fact produce the opposite result.  At the start of the story, Montresor tells his readers that his project will succeed only if he “makes himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.” 


Image of Poe's Cask of Amontillado II

In other words, Fortunato must not only know that he has been tricked but also why he was tricked and why he must die.  If this is Montresor’s intention, however, he goes about it in a rather strange way, offering Fortunato countless sips of wine on their trip into the catacombs that gets his antagonist pretty drunk.  By the end of the story, Montresor has certainly got away with the crime, but it’s far from certain that Fortunato (or even Montresor) knows why he is given such a terrible death.

So why does Montresor insist on telling us that his story is a success?  One reason might be that he is anxious about the situational irony that envelopes his story and wants to cover the reality of that irony with a simple appearance of triumph.  He’s gotten away with it, and Fortunato knows why he must die.  If readers push back against this desired outcome, testing it against Fortunato’s confusion at being chained to a wall and bricked into place, they travel further than even Montresor is willing to go into the murky catacombs of irony.

Further Resources for Teachers:

Kate Chopin's story "The Story of an Hour" offers students many opportunities to discuss different kinds of irony. These ideas are indirectly discussed in our "What is Imagery?" video.  Many other literary terms can be used for ironic effect, including Understatement , Free Indirect Discourse , Dramatic Monologue , and Unreliable Narrator . Yiyun Li's short story "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" is another story suitable for this kind of analysis.

Writing Prompt #1: Identify examples of verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony in Chopin's or Li's story. When you have made these determinations, explain how they operate together to convey meaning in the story.

Writing Prompt #2: See the prompt in our " What is a Sonnet? " video.

Interested in more video lessons? View the full series:

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Grammar Guide

The 4 Types of Irony

Krystal N. Craiker

Krystal N. Craiker

Blog Manager and Indie Author

The 4 types of irony title

Irony occurs when something that is said or the expected outcome of a situation is different from what actually happens.

It’s a rhetorical and literary device that comes in several formats.

Today, we’re diving into four of the main types of irony in literature: situational irony, verbal irony , dramatic irony, and Socratic irony.

The 4 types of irony

Different Types of Irony

Situational irony, verbal irony, dramatic irony, socratic irony, final thoughts on irony.

Irony can be a complicated topic, and it’s not the easiest literary technique to identify. This is because not all types of irony look the same.

Each of the different types of irony serve distinct purposes, but they are all rooted in the idea that the expected outcome differs from the actual outcome.

These outcomes might be incongruous events in a story, or words that don’t align with their intended meaning.

Irony comes from the ancient Greeks. A character named Eiron in a Greek comedy downplayed his abilities in order to defeat his enemies.

It’s from his name that we got the Greek word “eironeia,“ which means “feigned ignorance.“ Greek tragedy and comedy frequently used irony for storytelling.

Why use different types of irony? What purpose does irony serve? Irony is a way to emphasize ideas. Irony can build tension, add humor, or lead to an unexpected twist.

There are three types of irony that show up regularly in literature: situational irony, verbal irony, and dramatic irony.

The fourth and oldest type of irony is Socratic irony , which involves the feigned ignorance that was commonly portrayed in ancient Greek theater.

Let’s take a look at each of these types in more detail, along with several examples.

The functions of irony

Situational irony occurs when the outcome of a situation differs greatly from what one would expect to happen.

Situational irony can occur in everyday life. For example, seeing someone complain about Facebook in a Facebook post is a type of situational irony.

Maybe a marriage counselor files for divorce or a fire station burns down. These are all examples of situational irony.

In literature, situational irony can build tension or lead to a great plot twist. It’s a way to keep readers guessing what comes next. What happens when the murderer gets murdered halfway through the story?

Situational irony definition

There are four types of situational irony: cosmic irony, poetic irony, structural irony, and historical irony.

Cosmic irony occurs when a higher power, like a god, magic, or fate, intervenes and creates ironic situations. A character might appeal to a god, who ends up making the situation more challenging.

Poetic irony is also called poetic justice. This is a very fitting outcome, usually for a bad character. This is the trope of “the punishment fitting the crime.“ For example, a character who seeks immortality at all costs dies young.

Structural irony is when a character is unaware of the situation they are in. This might be the “fish out of water“ trope or a character’s ignorance. Maybe they don’t know they are the Chosen One and that their actions have far-reaching effects.

Historical irony occurs when the consequences of a character’s intended outcome cause the opposite of what they tried to do. It can also mean a character’s morals change over time in a way that affects their original goals.

This might look like a time traveler killing Hitler only to cause Nazi Germany to win the war under a new leader. Or maybe a character who sets out to take down power-hungry villains becomes obsessed with power themselves.

Situational irony types

Situational Irony Examples

One example of situational irony occurs in the Harry Potter series. Voldemort spends his life trying to become immortal.

But, because he split his soul, Voldemort dies at age 71, much younger than wizards who die of natural causes. That's 10 years younger than the average life expectancy of real people in the United Kingdom!

This is both poetic irony and historical irony. Voldemort gets a fitting demise, and his actions had the opposite effect of what he intended.

Another example of situational irony, specifically structural irony, is in the movie Shutter Island .

The movie follows a U.S. Marshal named Teddy Daniels, who is sent to investigate mysterious disappearances at a hospital for the criminally insane.

The movie is a psychological horror which ends with a major plot twist. Teddy is actually a patient at the hospital, and the doctors tried to cure him by allowing him to act out his conspiracy theory.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

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Verbal irony occurs when someone says one thing but means another. As a literary device, this happens anytime the literal meaning of a statement differs from the author’s or character’s intended meaning.

Verbal irony can be a way to include humor or levity in a story, but it’s not always funny. It can also be used to foreshadow events or create tension between characters.

There are three major types of verbal irony: sarcasm, understatement, and overstatement.

Sarcasm occurs when someone says the opposite of what is actually true with the intent of being snide or even hurtful. Telling your sister she’s your favorite sibling right after she ruined your favorite dress is an example of sarcasm.

Understatements are another type of verbal irony. Litotes are a specific type of understatement meant to express an affirmative by using a negative statement. For example, saying, “she’s not the nicest person“ to describe a character who is very mean is a litotes.

Overstatements are also ironic. Hyperbole occurs when there is a great over exaggeration, such as, “I’m so hungry I could eat an entire hippo.“

verbal irony types

Socratic irony can also be considered a type of verbal irony, but it’s often used for a slightly different purpose in literature, so we’ve given it its own section below.

Verbal Irony Examples

Let’s look at a few examples of verbal irony.

Shakespeare loved using verbal irony in his plays, and Julius Caesar is no exception. Just after Brutus betrayed and murdered his friend Caesar, Marc Antony gives a speech and calls Brutus “an honorable man.“

In Lemony Snicket: the Unauthorized Autobiography , Lemony Snicket says:

“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.“

Of course, hot chocolate isn’t cold or bitter, and you aren’t supposed to add vinegar or refrigerate it.

Dramatic irony definition

Dramatic irony is the third major type of irony in literature. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader knows what is happening, but the characters do not.

Of all the types of irony, dramatic irony is the best at building tension. The audience waits for the proverbial shoe to drop. They watch characters making bad choices and want to tell them to stop.

Dramatic irony also allows readers to pick up on more examples of verbal irony and foreshadowing . It illuminates difficult choices that characters must make and intensifies the emotional aspect of a story.

When the audience is aware that a tragic situation will occur, but the characters are trying to avoid it, it’s called tragic irony .

But not all dramatic irony results in disaster: romance often uses it when the audience knows two characters will end up together before the characters do.

Dramatic Irony Examples

One of the most famous examples of dramatic irony, more specifically tragic irony, is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet . The audience knows that Juliet has taken a potion to pretend to be dead. She is waiting for her happily ever after with Romeo. But Romeo thinks she is actually dead and kills himself. Juliet tragically wakes to find her true love dead, so she ends her own life, too.

The movie The Truman Show is another great example of dramatic irony. The main character is actually the star of a reality show and is being watched all the time. But he does not know that he's on TV and being filmed. The suspense is built as the audience waits for him to find out the truth.

Socratic irony definition

The last type of irony is Socratic irony. This type of irony comes from Socrates and his method of teaching.

The Socratic method involves pretending you don’t know the answer and asking targeted questions.

Socratic irony isn’t just for the classroom. It’s a rhetorical device where a person or character feigns ignorance to obtain information. It’s often used to get someone to admit guilt, so it shows up frequently in courtroom dramas and police procedurals.

Socratic irony can also be used to make someone look stupid or to point out fallacies in an argument.

Socratic Irony Examples

Comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen often uses Socratic irony in his work. He plays ignorant characters, such as Ali G and Borat, with the aim of highlighting ignorance in other people.

A great example of Socratic irony comes from the movie Legally Blonde . Elle notices that the murder victim’s daughter has a hole in her alibi; she said she took a shower immediately after getting a perm.

Elle plays the “dumb blonde“ as she examines the witness, but then asks a series of questions about perms that the witness knows the answer to.

This leads to the witness admitting to murder on the stand.

Irony serves many purposes in literature. Understanding each type of irony can improve your understanding of storytelling and make you a better writer.

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Krystal N. Craiker is the Writing Pirate, an indie romance author and blog manager at ProWritingAid. She sails the seven internet seas, breaking tropes and bending genres. She has a background in anthropology and education, which brings fresh perspectives to her romance novels. When she’s not daydreaming about her next book or article, you can find her cooking gourmet gluten-free cuisine, laughing at memes, and playing board games. Krystal lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, child, and basset hound. Check out her website or follow her on Instagram: @krystalncraikerauthor.

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Types Of Irony In Literature: With Tips And Examples

Novel writing ,

Types of irony in literature: with tips and examples.

Cailean Steed

By Cailean Steed

If, like me, you’re of a certain vintage, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ‘irony’ are lyrics from Alanis Morrisette’s song ‘Ironic’. Irony is when there’s rain on your wedding day, right?

Well, no. The situations described in Morrisette’s song are actually all simply unfortunate. Which is, in itself, somewhat ironic for a song called ‘Ironic’ (don’t you think?).

In this article, we’ll have a look at the five main types of irony in literature, along with examples for each.

What Is Irony In Literature?

So why isn’t rain on your wedding day ironic?

It might not be what you’d hoped for, but it lacks the sense of reversal often at the heart of irony; as comedian Ed Byrne commented, it would only be ironic if you were getting married to a weatherman.

Irony is also commonly confused with sarcasm, and, although there is some crossover between the two, there are two key differences.

The first is that sarcasm can only be used to describe speech; whilst events and situations can be ironic, they cannot be sarcastic. The word ‘sarcasm’ is derived from the Greek for ‘cutting flesh’, and this brings us to our second difference: sarcasm is cutting and is intended to wound.

So, whilst you can say something ironically by saying the opposite of what you mean, you are only being sarcastic if you are trying to hurt, insult or belittle someone by doing so.

In our writing , we can make use of irony as a literary device for a number of reasons:


What Are The Different Types Of Irony?

Let’s look at the five different types of irony, each of which can be used as a literary device …

Verbal Irony Definition

When a character says the opposite of what they are really thinking, they are using verbal irony. When I step outside into pouring rain and state, ‘What a lovely day!’ I am being ironic, because that’s not what I actually mean. (What I actually mean is that I live in Glasgow.)

The contrast between what is said and our understanding of the underlying sentiment is often used for humour. For example, in The Simpsons , when Bart tells Homer, ‘I respect you as much as I ever have or ever will,’ we of course understand that Bart means that he has a very low level of regard for his father.

In your own writing, then, consider how a character’s dialogue , or even inner monologue , can be used to humorous effect.

Maybe we want a lighthearted scene. We might want to build a sense of a character’s joviality, black humour, or dourness. Whatever the reason, verbal irony can be a powerful tool in developing characterisation and mood in your writing.

Dramatic Irony Example And Definition

Dramatic irony is when the audience or readers know something that the characters do not.

We find this type of irony throughout the plays of William Shakespeare. Think of the prologue from Romeo and Juliet , for example:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

We know from the beginning that the lovers will die at their own hands. Dramatic irony is employed to keep the audience or reader on the edge of their seats, aware of the danger hurtling towards the blithely unaware characters.

Inevitability is a key element of dramatic irony: at some point, the characters will learn what the audience already knows.

In ancient Greek drama, this moment was known as ‘anagnorisis’, and it is intimately tied up with the conventions of tragedy: that the hero’s downfall is caused by their fatal flaw. The audience knows ahead of time what the character’s fatal flaw or crucial mistake is, while the character themselves only realises it too late.

And this is the great power of dramatic irony – rather than acting as a ‘spoiler’ and ruining a big reveal, it engages readers further as they wait in agony for the moment a character’s world comes crashing down around them.

The inevitability of dramatic irony lends tension to even the quieter moments of a story and helps it build towards a thrilling climax.

Situational Irony Definition

Situational irony occurs when the opposite of what you’d expect to happen happens.

Remember how rain on your wedding day is ironic – if you’re getting married to a weatherman? That’s situational irony. Another example might be if an ambulance, racing to help an injured person, instead struck and further injured that person.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner , features a sailor who is stuck on a ship that is going nowhere, and is slowly dying of thirst; the irony is that there is ‘Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.’ Tragic irony indeed.

In this example, situational irony adds to our understanding of the character’s desperation and gives us a sense of the bitterness of his situation.

If you want your readers to gasp at the unfairness of your character’s situation, or see the bittersweetness or humour in a moment when the outcome they expected was reversed or subverted, then situational irony is an effective way to achieve this.


Cosmic Irony Definition

Cosmic irony is closely related to situational irony. Going further than simply subverting an expectation, cosmic irony is when it seems as though the universe itself is against your characters.

We often see cosmic irony in stories where the gods seem to have control of a character’s fate, and have fun at their expense.

In Antigone , a play by Sophocles, we see cosmic irony in the antagonist, Creon’s, fate. Creon angers the gods when he decrees that the body of Antigone’s disgraced brother is not to be buried. Creon’s pride leads to the cosmic irony of the punishment the gods give him: because he did not respect the rituals of death, he ultimately suffers the death of all who are close to him.

Here, cosmic irony is used by Sophocles for a number of reasons: to explore the human condition, and to emphasise the theme of fate versus free will.

If you want to create a character whose inescapable fate is so monumental and devastating that it will leave your readers in awe and despair, cosmic irony is the way to go.

Socratic Irony Definition

Socratic irony derives from the teaching method of Greek philosopher Socrates, who used questioning to prompt a student to work logically through their ideas. This brings us to Socratic irony, where a character feigns ignorance in order to uncover hidden truths.

The most famous example of this literary technique is perhaps the TV detective Columbo, whose entire persona is an example of Socratic irony. Presenting a humble appearance, the detective would trick ne’er do wells by leading them to reveal a seemingly insignificant, yet crucial detail.

His catchphrase ‘One more thing’, is a masterclass in Socratic irony, as he pretends to remember to enquire about a small matter when his targets are most unguarded.

This type of irony works especially well in the crime genre, and intersects with dramatic irony: the reader will realise when a character has stepped into a trap laid by the questioner, though the character themselves will only realise too late.

It’s also a powerful tool to drive up the tension in courtroom dramas – think of the well known ‘You can’t handle the truth’ scene in the film A Few Good Men .

The great thing about Socratic irony is that it can be used to create completely opposite effects.

On the one hand, if you want to build up to a stunning climax, you can use Socratic irony to show a gradually more tense interaction that becomes an explosive confrontation when one side realises what they’ve let slip.

However, if you want to show your readers a character who quietly and deftly draws their oblivious opponent into a net of their own making, you can use Socratic irony for this as well.

How To Use Irony In Your Writing

Although irony is a highly effective tool, one thing to keep in mind when using it is that it relies entirely on the reader’s ability to recognise that it’s there in the first place.

You need to read between the lines to see irony, because it hinges on the reader noticing the difference between how things appear and what the real truth is, or what is expected as opposed to what actually happens.


Points Of View And Irony

If you want to use any of the various types of irony discussed, some possibilities include using an omniscient point of view, flashbacks, or foreshadowing. These approaches all allow the readers to have access to information that characters themselves may not have, or set up expectations that you can then play with.

As with all writing techniques, irony works best if employed for a clear purpose. What do you want to achieve with your use of irony?

The purposes of irony are as varied as the examples you’ll find, perhaps in some of your favourite books or films. In fact, looking for examples in your favourite stories can be an excellent way to develop your own understanding of how to write irony, or they can serve as inspiration!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the five main types of irony.

The five main types of irony are verbal, dramatic, situational, cosmic and Socratic.

What Are Three Dramatic Irony Examples?

What Is Situational Irony In Literature?

In literature, situational irony is when the outcome you’d expect does not happen, and your expectation is subverted or reversed in some manner.

For example, in Roald Dahl’s, Lamb to the Slaughter , Mary kills her husband by hitting him with a frozen leg of lamb. She then cooks the lamb and feeds it to the police officers who arrive to ask her some questions. The police unwittingly destroying evidence is situational irony, as is the fact that Mary is not, as she first seems, the ‘lamb’ of the title – her husband is.

Writing Irony

Irony creates additional depth and meaning to your work, and connects you to a rich literary tradition which goes back literally thousands of years. If you want your readers to be painfully aware of the predicament your character is in, or to gasp at the intricacy of your plotting, or laugh out loud at absurdity, irony is all its forms will help.

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About the author

Cailean Steed is a writer, teacher, and aspiring dog owner. Their debut novel Home is forthcoming from Raven Bloomsbury in January 2023. Cailean's short stories have been published in anthologies such as New Writing Scotland and Boudicca Press's Disturbing the Beast . Their audiodrama RealBoy was the winner of the 2020 Pen to Print Audioplay Award. Find more info on their website , Twitter , or Instagram .

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Three Types of Irony

Examples of Irony

Do you want your students to understand the 3 different types of irony in literature?

Do you want your students to be able to identify and explain irony on their own?

Do you want them to actually enjoy learning about irony?

Then you have come to the right place! Here at Storyboard That we have developed storyboards, lessons and activities to help you teach the three types of Irony. If you really want your students to learn the concept, check out the activities below that will get them creating their own scenarios of irony or finding examples from your current novel study or unit!

Irony Definition

What is irony.

Most students may not know the definition of irony but they might say they know it when they see it! More than likely your students can provide different types of irony examples without realizing it whether it be plot twists or sarcasm. Merriam Webster says the definition of irony in literature is the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning . Within literature, there are different kinds of irony.

What are the types of irony? There are many ways to authors include irony in their stories. There could be a distance between what the character says and what they actually mean. There can be an instance where the author reveals something that is the opposite of what is expected. Or, there could be a difference between a character's understanding of a situation vs. the reality of what it actually is. In short, there are examples of verbal , situational and dramatic irony that occur throughout most literary works!

Irony is a literary device where the chosen words are intentionally used to indicate a meaning other than the literal one. Irony is often mistaken for sarcasm. Sarcasm is actually a form of verbal irony , but sarcasm is usually intentionally insulting. When you say, "Oh, great!" after your drink has spilled all over your expensive new clothes, you don't actually mean that the incident is positive. Here, using the word 'great' ironically indicates a higher negative implication, even though the wording itself is positive. However, the meaning of irony in literature is far more expansive! There are many more examples that define or exhibit irony in literature than just sarcasm. Read on to learn more about the different types of irony.

What are the Three Types of Irony?

In literature, there are three different types of irony: situational irony, verbal irony and dramatic irony . Irony types can vary within literature and there can be examples of more than one within a given work. Teachers can hold class discussions to point out instances of the three types of irony within a given novel study. Students can create storyboards to track examples of irony and include definitions and text evidence to demonstrate their understanding of this crucial literary technique.

Three Types of Irony

What are the 3 Types of Irony and their Definitions?

More about the three types of irony definitions, verbal irony.

Verbal irony examples occur when a character says one thing but actually means the opposite. The definition of verbal irony is when the character intends a meaning that is in contrast with the literal or usual meaning of the words. Verbal irony occurs often in the form of sarcasm or dry humor. However, it can also be more subtle and foreboding as the example below will showcase from "The Cask of Amontillado" . Many students are well versed in verbal irony whether they know it or not! They may often say one thing and mean the exact opposite: "We have homework tonight? Yay!".

Another great example of verbal irony to share with your students is if someone is looking out the window at gloomy, rainy weather and they exclaim "What a beautiful day!" or, if you are always late to class but tell your friends that you are going to "surely win the school award for punctuality". These are clear examples of the intended meaning being the opposite of the usual meaning of the phrase. Students are certain to find examples of verbal irony throughout their day. An engaging introduction to irony is to have your students come up with verbal irony examples sentences as a bell ringer. They can use Storyboard That to create a visual to go along with the written example. Chances are they have already heard or said something ironic that day!

Verbal irony has been used skillfully by many writers throughout history. A famous example is Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" (1729). In this classic work of satire, Swift uses verbal irony to make the reader believe that his "modest proposal" to eradicate poverty in Ireland is a sound argument. In reality it is sickening and outrageous, but Swift achieves his goal of pointing out the callous exploitation of the poor in Ireland by the rich elites and landowners

Within the main category of verbal irony are subcategories: sarcasm, understatement, overstatement and Socratic irony . Named for the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, Socratic irony is when a character will feign or pretend ignorance when asking a question in order to lead the person answering to expose their own ignorance. This is often employed by skillful lawyers in a courtroom drama. Socrates himself used this technique or the socratic method to teach his students, stimulate critical thinking and lead them to a deeper understanding.

Situational Irony

Situational irony examples occur when the opposite of what the reader expects, happens in the story. Verbal irony refers to a character's words. However, situational irony occurs when the situation is in contrast to what is expected. Popular examples to share with students of situational irony are: if a marriage counselor got divorced, if a fire station burned down, if a police station got robbed or if you fell asleep while reading a book about insomnia! All of these are examples where you would expect one thing in the situation but the opposite happens. An easy example of situational irony in literature to point out to students is at the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up and realizes it was all a dream! Situational irony in literature provides the reader with a surprising twist and can help to deepen understanding of characters or themes. Situational irony usually shows the reader that not everything is what it seems: appearances do not always match reality.

Within the main category of situational irony are subcategories. One subcategory is cosmic irony : in which there is a supernatural element such as a higher power such as God, fate or the Universe that creates the irony in the situation. Poetic irony , also known as poetic justice, is a type of situational irony where ultimately a situation causes the righteous or virtuous character to be rewarded and their enemies punished. Historical irony is another subcategory of situational irony in which the outcome of an event is the opposite from what was intended. In this case, hindsight allows the character or reader perspective to view the historical event as ironic as its result was one that was never expected.

Dramatic Irony

The meaning of dramatic irony is similar to situational irony. However, with dramatic irony, the audience or reader knows something that the main or other characters do not. The fact that the reader is aware of something that the character isn't creates drama, tension and suspense as you root for the character to "figure it out." In the cases of dramatic irony, the story may turn out well in the end. A subset of dramatic irony is tragic irony . As the name implies, this is a case where all does not end well. The audience is still privy to more information than the character and are aware that the character's lack of information is what will lead to the tragic end.

Dramatic Irony vs Situational Irony

Students can get confused about the difference between dramatic irony and situational irony. The main cue for students to look for is what does the audience know ? Are we made aware of what is unfolding? Does the author intend for the reader to know that there is a contrast between what the character believes and what the reality is? If so, then it is an example of dramatic irony. If we are uncovering this contrast along with the character, as in a major plot twist that catches us off guard, then it is situational irony.

Irony Definition

Irony in Literature: Classroom Applications and Uses

What is irony in literature how to assess student understanding.

Teachers can customize the level of detail and number of cells required for assignments based on available class time and resources.

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Irony Examples From Literary Classics

Verbal irony in "the cask of amontillado".

There are many examples of verbal irony in great works of literature. A prime example of verbal irony in "The Cask of Amontillado" is when an unsuspecting Fortunato is being led to his death by his former acquaintance, Montresor. As Montresor lures him into the catacombs, he questions Fortunato about his well-being. Montresor notices Fortunato has a cough, which is growing more severe the further down the catacombs they travel. He asks if Fortunato would like to turn back. Fortunato replies, “I shall not die of a cough.” Montresor knowingly replies, “True – true.” The audience finds out at the end that this was in fact use of verbal irony. Montresor appeared to mean that the cough was harmless, but what he was also saying was that he planned to kill Fortunato.

Verbal Irony in Cask of Amontillado

Situational Irony in Great Expectations

In Great Expectations , another great example of irony in literature, Pip and the audience both do not know who his benefactor is. Throughout the novel the reader is led to believe that the benefactor is indeed the rich Miss Havisham. Through her actions and the coincidences of Pip residing and being tutored by the Pockets, her cousins, the reader expects it to be her. Eventually, Magwich, the convict Pip showed kindness to at a young age, is revealed to be Pip's true benefactor. This revelation clashes with the expectations of Pip and the audience, generating situational irony.

Situational Irony in Great Expectations

Dramatic Irony in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Tragic irony, a form of dramatic irony, occurs in Romeo and Juliet , when Juliet is forced to take a sleeping potion to escape marrying Paris. She must do this because she is already married to the banished Romeo. When Romeo hears she is dead, the audience knows she is alive. He then kills himself and as Juliet wakes, she sees him dead and takes her life as well. The audience knows it all could have been prevented if the Friar's letter had gotten to Romeo, making the tale all the more tragic.

Dramatic Irony in Romeo and Juliet

More Examples of Irony in Literature

There are many examples of irony in stories whether they be classic or modern, books or movies. Below is a storyboard of examples of irony in the popular stories, "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs , "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry , The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood , and "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson .

Irony Examples in Literature

The "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs is a classic example of using irony as a crucial literary device. Each of the wishes made by the people possessing the monkey's paw turn out to have unexpected or ironic outcomes.

Irony occurs in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry as the reader watches Della and Jim sacrifice their most prized possessions to buy eachother the perfect gifts only to render those very gifts useless.

There are many examples of irony to unpack in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood . The setting alone in a dystopian world where the Gilead Republic, a totalitarian patriarchal theocracy, restricts freedom and reproductive rights making their citizens miserable all in the name of creating a "perfect society" is the ultimate irony.

The "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is a short story that was so shocking it was controversial when it was first released in 1948. The entire plot is filled with irony as the expected outcome of a lottery is to win a coveted prize. However, the result of this lottery was much more sinister.

Examples of Irony in Poetry

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a novel written in verse which offers students many examples of irony in poetry. Xiomara's mother is devoutly Christian and raises her daughter in the church. However, a religion that is based on peace is used as a weapon by her mother. The situational irony of her mother's harsh punishments and abuse contrast with the idea that Christianity is based on love and understanding. Even Xiomara's name is an example of irony within the story. Her name means "ready for battle". Xiomara says that her mother, "Gave me this gift of battle and now curses how well I live up to it". It is ironic that her name given with love by her mother is also an example of Xiomara's rebellion against her mother.

The Poet X Irony

Other works of poetry that have examples of ironic situations and irony examples figures of speech are:

Related Activities

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe - Verbal Irony in "The Cask of Amontillado"

Relating to the Common Core

Ela common core standards for grades 9-12.

Irony Rubric for Classroom Exercises

Related resources.

Frequently Asked Questions about Irony

What is irony.

According to Merriam Webster, irony is the use of words to express something other than, and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. Oftentimes students know the definition of irony, but don't even realize it!

What are the three types of irony?

The three types of irony are situational irony, verbal irony, and dramatic irony. These types can vary within literature and can all be used in one novel.

What is verbal irony?

Verbal irony is when the character says something, but means the opposite. This type of irony usually occurs with sarcasm or dry humor.

What is situational irony?

Situational irony is when the opposite of what is expected happens in the story. An example of this would be if a police station got robbed, or a fire station burned down.

What is dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony is similar to situational irony, but differs because the readers know something that the characters do not. This is exciting because the reader gets to "root for" the character as they figure it out.

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The Three Types of Irony

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Lots of people know what irony is but find it hard to explain – despite all those high school English lessons.

So here's an irony definition. It's a literary device that highlights the incongruity (a fancy word for 'difference') between one's expectation for a situation, and the reality.

Part of the reason people find it hard to give a definition of irony is because of Alanis Morissette's 1995 hit song ' Ironic '. Morissette sings about a number of situations – like rain on one's wedding day – that, while inconvenient, aren't ironic. Which means people like us need to rescue storytellers everywhere by writing a blog that explains what this literary term actually is. (You're welcome.)

A little bit of history

Although she popularised irony, Alanis Morissette didn't invent it. That honour goes to the Greek character , Eiron. He was an underdog who used his considerable wit to fight another character. This spawned the Greek word eironeía, the literal meaning of which is 'purposely affected ignorance.' It then entered Latin as ironia, before becoming a popular English figure of speech in the 16th century.

The three different types of irony

1. dramatic irony.


Dramatic irony is when your audience has more information than your character(s) in a story. This nifty literary device became popular in Greek tragedy – and, true to the genre, the different point of view often leads to tragic outcomes.

One famous example of dramatic irony is in Shakespeare's smash hit, Othello. The audience knows that Othello's BFF Iago is a bad guy who wants to ruin Othello. The audience also knows that Desdemona has been faithful. Othello doesn't know either of these things. This means that the audience can sense some imminent fireworks – while poor Othello remains in the dark.

There are three stages to dramatic irony: installation, exploitation, and resolution. In Othello's case:

A common example of dramatic irony: In the film The Truman Show , where Truman is the only person who doesn't know that he's being filmed all the time.

2. Situational irony

wizard of oz

Situational irony is when the outcome of a situation is totally different from what people expect. This type of irony is a literary technique that's riddled with contradictions and contrasts.

For example, in the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, all the people in Emerald City assume that its Oz is powerful and impressive. However, Oz turns out to be the exact opposite: an old man with no special powers.

A common example of situational irony: In 1925, when the New York Times said the crossword puzzle was a craze that was “dying out fast”. That didn't age well.

3. Verbal irony


Verbal irony is when your speaker says something that's the opposite to what they mean. While it sounds similar to sarcasm, it's not exactly the same. People usually use sarcasm to attack something, but that's not always the case with irony.

Our old friend Alanis Morrissette did manage to get one example of irony into her song. When the man (in the song) whose plane is going down says "Well, isn't this nice", it's clearly in the form of verbal irony. He's not actually happy that the plane's about to crash, so his statement is the opposite of what he means.

One more note: unlike dramatic irony and situational irony, verbal irony is always an intentional move by the speaker.

A common example of verbal irony: When people say "What a pleasant day!" when there's a thunderstorm outside. The jokers.

Examples of irony

Dramatic irony example: the gift of the magi.


O. Henry's short story The Gift of the Magi is jam-packed with irony, all in the name of teaching the reader about sacrifice and love. When Della opens her gift of tortoiseshell combs from Jim, it's dramatic irony because she briefly forgets that her hair is too short to wear them. It's also dramatic irony if the reader guesses in advance that Jim sold his watch to buy the precious combs.

Situational irony example: Pride and Prejudice


Jane Austen was a big fan of irony, filling her novels with the stuff. Early in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is asked to play and sing at a party at Lucas Lodge. At the same time, Sir Lucas is trying to persuade Mr. Darcy to dance, an offer that he rejects. But then Sir Lucas spies Elizabeth, and encourages Mr. Darcy to ask her for a dance – which he dutifully does. It's a total reversal of his earlier behaviour (he claims to hate dancing), making it the perfect example of situational irony.

Verbal irony example: Julius Caesar


Our mate William Shakespeare issues a cracking example of verbal irony in his play Julius Caesar. When Mark Antony says 'But Brutus says he was ambitious; / And Brutus is an honourable man', it seems as if he's praising Brutus after the assassination of Julius Caesar. However, it's nothing but a witty ruse. Mark Antony is actually implying that Brutus isn't ambitious or honourable at all. Sneaky!

Other types of irony

For bonus points, here are a few extra types of irony. They're perfect for days when you want to dial the irony all the way up to eleven.

Cosmic irony is when irony goes to a whole other, godly level. Why? Because you only get it in stories that contain gods who want different things to humans. These gods might play with humans' lives for kicks, creating oodles of ironic situations. The irony is the contrast between what the humans expect, and what actually happens. This type of irony mostly occurs in Greek legends.

Historical irony is all about real events that – when you look at them in the rearview mirror – turned out a lot different than people predicted. Like the Chinese alchemists who discovered gunpowder when they were looking for a way to create immortality. Their discovery had an entirely opposite effect.

Socratic irony was named after the philosopher Socrates. This old rascal would pretend to not know about a topic during a debate, leading his opponent to reveal all their nonsensical arguments. It's also an example of dramatic irony because mischievous Socrates was pretending to have less information than he actually did.

Tragic irony is a little step up from dramatic irony. We see it in Romeo and Juliet, where our two lovers find out the truth slightly too late to prevent a tragedy. Hence the 'tragic' part.

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Last updated on Nov 03, 2022

3 Types of Irony: Tell Them Apart With Confidence (+ Examples)

Irony is when the opposite of what is expected happens. In writing, there are three types of irony — verbal, situational, and dramatic.

The term “irony” comes from the Greek word eironeia , meaning "feigned ignorance," and storytellers of all stripes like to use the different forms of irony as a rhetorical or literary device to create suspense, humor, or as the central conceit in a plot.

To help you make heads or tails of this technique, this article will dig into the three common types of irony.

uJ8V0ueoNr4 Video Thumb

1. Verbal irony

Verbal irony is where the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what is actually said. People and literary characters alike use it to express amusement, emphasize a point, or to voice frustration or anger. In literature, verbal irony can create suspense, tension, or a comic effect. 

Verbal irony is actually the type of irony most used in everyday conversation, and can take the form of sarcasm — which is almost always used to denigrate someone or something. Regardless, the two are not the same thing, though many people conflate the concepts. 

To illustrate, here are a few common phrases that perfectly exemplify how verbal irony works — many of them similes comparing two entirely unlike things:

Understating and overstating

Broadly speaking, verbal irony works by either understating or overstating the gravity of the situation. 

An ironic understatement creates contrast by undermining the impact of something, though the thing itself will be rather substantial or severe. For example, in The Catcher in the Rye , Holden Caulfield casually says, "I have to have this operation. It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain." Of course, Holden is lying here, which is why he can be so cavalier — and the nonchalant way he downplays something as serious as a brain tumor is ironic.

On the other hand, an ironic overstatement makes something minor sound like a much bigger deal to emphasize a quality it lacks. For example, say you win $5 in a lottery where the grand prize is $100 million. A friend asks you if you won anything, and you say, "Yeah, total jackpot" — that's an ironic overstatement.

💡 Note: Don’t confuse ironic overstatements with hyperbole , the rhetorical device of exaggeration. If a character says "I'm so tired, I could sleep for a million years,” and they are genuinely tired, that isn’t ironic — just exaggerated.

Highlighting a fallacy

Verbal irony is often used for satirical purposes, exaggerating or underplaying descriptions to reveal a deeper truth. Viewed through a lens of overstatement or understatement, the reader can see how flawed the original concept might be.

Verbal irony can be found in the very first lines of Romeo and Juliet (a play riddled with irony).

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

Though the first line may sound respectful, we can see by the end of this verse that Shakespeare doesn’t actually mean to say that both households are alike in their great dignity. Instead, these lines imply the total opposite — that both households are equally un dignified. This irony also serves another purpose: notifying first-time readers that not all that glitters is gold. While both families might technically be considered nobility, their shared inability to act nobly toward one another ultimately leads to a bitter end for our tragic heroes .

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Providing insight into characters

Irony | Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca

Dialogue is an incredible tool for revealing what a character is like as how they choose to say something can speak volumes about who they are. Very often, people who use verbal irony tend to be highly self-aware.

For example, in Casablanca, the corrupt (yet charming) police captain Louis Renault follows instructions from German officials to order a raid on Rick's nightclub under the pretext of closing an illegal gambling den. "I'm shocked — shocked! — to find that gambling is going on in here!" Renault exclaims while thanking Rick’s croupier for bringing him his winnings. This knowing overstatement of 'shocked' reveals a lot about his cheerfully cynical worldview.

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Creating a comic effect

Of course, verbal irony can also be used for a simple comic result. Whether it's to highlight a witty character, lighten tension during a dark or difficult scene, or just to make people laugh, verbal irony can provide a much-needed moment of humorous relief. As you might expect, verbal irony is a common joke component.

For example, in Notting Hill , when love interests Anna and Will first meet at his bookshop , he confronts a man who’s trying to steal a book, and very politely threatens to call the police. When he returns to the till to help Anna, she hands over the book she’d like to buy and says “I was gonna steal one, but now I’ve changed my mind.” Obviously, the statement isn’t true — she’s using verbal irony to make light of the situation, diffusing awkwardness and showing her friendly inclination.

2. Situational irony

In literature, situational irony is a literary or plot device occurring when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. You can use it to create suspense, humor, and surprise in your writing.

Scene from Alanis Morissette's Ironic music video, where she drives a car.

You can think of it as “the irony of events” to distinguish from the other types of irony, but it is not the same as coincidence or bad luck (apologies to Alanis Morrisette ). If you buy a new car and then accidentally drive it into a tree, that is coincidental and unlucky, but not ironic. However, if a professional stunt driver crashes into a tree on their way home from receiving a "best driver" award, that is situationally ironic. 

Within the context of a story, why might a writer use situational irony?

Creating a good ol’ fashioned twist

Authors can draw strong reactions from their readers by presenting them with carefully executed twists and turns. A  plot twist is all the more delicious when it's the polar opposite of what you'd typically expect. Storylines based on or containing situational irony inherently possess an element of surprise, so they're common in the comedy, thriller , crime, and mystery genres.

eRZTeY8PjCQ Video Thumb

In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest , for example, Jack proposes to Gwendolen under his fake name of Ernest, hoping to share the truth about his name once he’s been accepted. His plan is quickly thwarted when she accepts him because of his name, telling him that her “ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest.” When he asks her what he thinks of “Jack” as a name, she declares that “The only really safe name is Ernest” — so his plan to reveal the truth is suddenly turned on its head, and he resolves to get christened as soon as possible. 

Emphasizing a theme or moral lesson

Steering readers to an unexpected destination in a story can also emphasize a theme or moral lesson — often reminding readers that an expected outcome is not always guaranteed. And because situational irony can urge readers to think twice about their own assumptions, authors often deploy it in fables or morality tales.

In Aesop's 'The Tortoise and the Hare,' for example, the unexpected outcome teaches us that slow and steady wins the race . Or perhaps the real moral is that you shouldn't be complacent and take naps during races.

Situational irony creates a contrast between appearances and underlying truths. When done properly, this can significantly alter a reader's interaction with, expectations of, and insight into a story. But irony must be used with care: without the help of intonation and body language, it requires people to read between the lines to understand its intentions; a reader who doesn’t see the irony will take these words at face value.

3. Dramatic irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the reader or viewer knows something that the characters in the story do not. This can create a sense of unease or anticipation as the audience waits to see how the characters will react to the situation they are in. 

So, to what effect can dramatic irony be used in a story?

Building fear and suspense

When readers or viewers know more than the characters do, they’re often left on pins and needles, waiting for the other shoe to drop or for an inevitable plot point to appear. Will the character discover the secret we already know? What will happen when they find out the truth? What if they find out the truth too late? Subconsciously, all of these questions run through their minds as the story unfolds, contributing to page-turning suspense.

Still from the Hobbit movie, showing Bilbo holding up the ring thoughtfully.

The Hobbit contains a perfect example of dramatic irony — when Bilbo happens upon the ring while lost on a mountain, he puts it in his pocket and soon afterward encounters Gollum.

At this point, readers understand the significance of the ring and its importance to Gollum. However, Gollum does not yet realize he has lost the ring, and Bilbo doesn’t yet know who the ring belongs to. For this reason, the scene where Bilbo and Gollum engage in a game of riddles becomes more stressful for the audience who understands what’s at stake. 

📚 For some truly impressive suspense-building, check out this list of the 50 best suspense books of all time .

Eliciting sympathy for a character

If a character is happy but we know that tragedy lies ahead, we can’t help but sympathize with them. If the reader or audience is already "rooting for" the characters, they will hold on to the hope that things will turn out okay for them. And whatever the end result is — pain or relief —  the reader is likely to feel it twofold.

Still from 10 Things I Hate About You, showing Patrick and Kat pointing to the camera.

The audience knew all along! (image: Touchstone Pictures)

In the modern-day Shakespeare adaptation Ten Things I Hate About You , for example, bad-boy transfer student Patrick is paid by his classmate to woo the cold and aloof Kat. The audience knows that Kat will eventually discover the truth. The deception will wound her, and Patrick will (justifiably) lose her trust. This dramatic irony gives the scenes where they fall in love a bittersweet edge, making us sympathize with both characters. 

In fact, many romance tropes rely on dramatic irony, like the hate-to-love trope — just on account of the characters existing in a romance novel, readers know they're going to end up together. This results in that “slow burn” anticipation where readers are dying to see the characters confess their feelings, but have to live with their impatience as the romance slowly runs its course.

Setting up comical misunderstandings

A lot of comedy comes out of misunderstandings — where a character believes something that the audience knows not to be true, or doesn’t yet know something important. The dramatic irony turns into comedic tension as the character obliviously digs themselves (or other characters) into a deeper hole.

To give you an example of how this works: in a season one episode of Friends , Joey tried to win back his ex-girlfriend Angela by arranging a double date. Hebrings Monica but tells her that Angela’s new boyfriend, Bob, is actually her brother — making it seem as though Bob is Monica’s date. This misunderstanding turns to hilarious confusion as Monica is creeped out by how 'close' Bob and Angela seem to be.

Want more examples and in-depth explanation of any of these types of irony? We’ve spent some time breaking them down even further in the next posts in this guide — starting with verbal irony .

3 responses

Katharine Trauger says:

08/08/2017 – 05:39

I once received a birthday card telling me that irony is the opposite of wrinkly. But I do have a question: I believe, as you related to Hitchcock and I think about his works, that he used irony extensively, even more than one instance in a piece. It's a lot to remember and I've certainly not examined his works to verify that. However, I wonder if, although his works were beyond successful and loved by many, just how much irony is acceptable in today's writing. I agree it is a great device, but can it be overdone? Also, I am writing a piece which has what I believe an ironic ending. Is that a bad place to put a huge departure from the expected? I think O'Henry did that a lot, like when the man sells his watch to buy combs for his wife, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for his watch... But today, how much is too much and will readers come back for more?

↪️ Jim Morrison replied:

20/06/2018 – 21:42

While irony can be overused, it is not a bad thing to use irony - even to end a book. "Story" by Robert McKee discusses irony as an ending and explains how to use it and when to use it. As to your question about how much irony is accepted in today's society, I would say that it is more acceptable than before. With today's writing - particularly in theater - irony is a heavily used element. Thor: Ragnarok, for example, is dripping with ironic situations. Satire, the personal wheelhouse of Vonnegut and Heller, is not only a highbrow version of sarcasm, it is also heavy on the irony. So I say, personally, be as ironic as you want, just, as mentioned in the blog, be careful you don't overuse it to the point that the use of irony becomes ironic (i.e. you lose the audience). Cheers and happy writing.

Naughty Autie says:

30/05/2019 – 15:37

There is a blog which does not allow comments, yet it's called 'The Conversation'. Funny, I always thought that a conversation always took place between multiple people.

Comments are currently closed.

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Types of Irony StudioBinder min

3 Types of Irony Every Storyteller Should Know (with Examples)

W e encounter irony every day: in our favorite movies, TV shows, and in our own lives. Most people have a general understanding of irony but there are also a lot of misconceptions about it. For example, w ere you aware that there are 3 different types of irony?

In this article, we’re going to define irony in all its variations. Whether you’re writing a short story or a screenplay, irony can be a powerful storytelling tool. Y ou’ll be able to recognize the different types of irony and understand how they work. The next step is to carry this understanding straight into your next writing project.

3 Types of Irony (Overview)

Watch: The Ultimate Guide to Irony

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Ironic Meaning

Meaning of irony in literature.

Irony is fundamental in storytelling.

Irony is the opposite of expectation. When what we expect to happen doesn’t happen, it creates conflict . 

If we know the truth about a dangerous situation and we watch someone else get close to that danger, it creates suspense .

When someone says one thing but means another, it creates complexity .

All of these elements (conflict, suspense, complexity) are fundamental building blocks in storytelling. You don’t need to be an expert on irony to be a good storyteller. But it sure helps. Let’s define irony before we move on to the various types of irony.

Irony Definition

What is irony.

Irony is a literary device in which the reality is opposite of what we expect. The key here is "opposite," not just different. This incongruity can be found in language (what we say vs. what we mean) or circumstances (what we expect to happen vs. what actually happens).

What are the three types of irony?

Irony can be sad and tragic, or it can funny and satirical. In other words, there are limitless ways you can wield irony in your stories.

There are 3 different types of irony: dramatic , verbal , and situational . Each has a different definition and function in storytelling.

For a complete guide to irony, download our FREE ebook covering the types of irony, examples, and how writers wield it.

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Free download , ultimate guide to irony.

Irony is an essential literary device that all writers should master.  Download our FREE e-book to get in-depth explanations and examples on topics like the major types and sub-types of irony, and the myriad of ways writers can use it to enrich their storytelling.

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Let’s move on to some quick definitions of these main types along with a few subtypes or irony that provide even more complexity and depth to ironic storytelling.

Different Types of Irony: Dramatic

What is  dramatic irony.

Dramatic irony is when we have more information about the circumstances than a character.

Ex. When you know there's a killer shark in the ocean but the carefree beach goers have no idea they're being hunted.

That is dramatic irony.

SPOILER ALERT for  The Matrix .

Neo and his crew are betrayed by one of their own. If we had learned of this at the moment of betrayal, we certainly would have been shocked.

But because we learn about it before any of the other characters, we have a nice, juicy piece of dramatic irony. 

Here's the scene as it was written in the screenplay. Follow the image link to read the entire scene using StudioBinder's screenwriting software .

3 Different Types of Irony - The Matrix - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Read the  full scene here

So, as with any dramatic irony example, the question becomes why do you let the audience know the truth before the characters do? Wouldn't it be shocking to see Cypher betray his people? We would be just as confused and panicked as Neo and the others.

Of course, this is a subjective question: which method is best for the story? But here's an argument for why dramatic irony works best in this particular scenario. Sometimes when you get a major character turn like this, it can feel "unearned," like it came out of nowhere to be shocking for its own sake. This way, by letting us know well in advance of Cypher's intentions, it doesn't feel like such a "cheat." 

Here's the scene that shows the actual betrayal and its consequences.

Types of Irony: Dramatic Irony example

Within dramatic irony, there is only one subtype: tragic irony . The difference between these two types of irony is slight but it’s an important distinction to make. Basically, tragic irony is dramatic irony with tragic consequences — it's as easy as that.

There are also distinct stages of dramatic irony , or the order of operations when deploying dramatic irony. Dramatic irony needs to be introduced, it needs to develop over time, and it needs to be released. To successfully incorporate dramatic irony, these stages are essential.

Learn more about dramatic irony →

Verbal irony definition, what is verbal irony.

Verbal irony is when someone says something, but means the opposite.

Ex. When you get an "F" on your term paper and say, "Wow, I did a really good job on my term paper!"

That is verbal irony.

In  The Breakfast Club , Bender (Judd Nelson) is know for his sharp tongue. He is constantly providing quips, insults, jokes, mockery and, of course, verbal irony. Consider this scene when discussing why he isn't more involved in extracurricular activities (starting around 1:30 in this clip).

Pay attention to his responses and the clearly ironic tone he uses to deliver likes like, "Well, I'll just run right out and join the wrestling team!"

Types of Irony: Verbal irony example

Here's the scene as it was written in the screenplay. His line, "Oh, God! You ritchies are so smart, that's exactly why I'm not heavy in activities!" is a great example of verbal irony. Again, we are clued into his irony mostly through his delivery and performance, leaving no doubt that he doesn't mean what he says.

Follow the image link to read the entire scene in StudioBinder.

Irony Explained The Breakfast Club Irony Example StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Within this verbal irony general definition, there are 4 types of verbal irony: 

Each one brings a particular element so understanding which one to use and for what purpose is essential. You can find links to each of these in navigation at the bottom of the page.

Learn more about verbal irony →

Situational irony definition, what is situational irony.

Situational irony is when we expect one thing, but get the opposite.

Ex. To avoid rain on your wedding day, you choose a desert that hasn't seen rain in 100 years...and then it starts raining.

That is situational irony.

A really great example of situational irony comes in  Terminator 2: Judgment Day . Sarah Connor is attempting to break out of a mental institution when she encounters the same Terminator that was out to kill her in the first film.

The irony here — this time, the Terminator is there to protect her.

Types of Irony: Situational irony example

Not only is this a great example of situational irony, it's also a clever and intriguing way to make a sequel. James Cameron knew that he couldn't just have the same killer robot chasing the same people a second time. That's just one reason why  T2  is one of the best sequels ever made .

Here's the scene as it was written in the screenplay. Follow the image link to read the entire scene in StudioBinder.

3 Different Types of Irony - Terminator 2 - StudioBinder Screenwriting Software

Within this general definition, there are 4 subtypes of situational irony: 

Learn more about situational irony →

Benefits of using irony, why use irony.

Irony is born when “what seems to be” is different from “what is.” This contrast between expectation and reality is what makes irony such a rich device to use in storytelling.

Irony adds a layer of complexity and richness to the conflict. Now there is depth to your story that might not have been there before.

Writers use conflict to tell stories and irony to make better stories.

Dive deeper into irony

We've covered the basics on the 3 types of irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.

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