What is Irony?

What is Irony

It’s the contrast between two seemingly incompatible facts. Like a religious leader caught embezzling. Or an umpire cheating. Or a marriage counselor divorcing.

Used irony to:

  • Create a humorous or dramatic effect
  • Emphasize a central idea
  • Help readers spot incongruities and uncover underlying meanings


  • Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink. — Paraphrase from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • “It’s just a flesh wound.” — From Monty Python and the Holy Grail where a knight loses his arms and legs

Types of Irony

1. Situational

  • Ninth century Chinese alchemists created gunpowder while trying to make an immortality elixir.
  • The Kudzu vine introduced to the U.S to prevent soil erosion now chokes trees and other plants.

2. Verbal

The literal meaning of a sentence is the opposite of what was intended:

  • Saying “Oh, wonderful!” when you horrible news.
  • In Beauty and the Beast, Belle tells the obnoxious Gaston, “I don’t deserve you.”
  • Saying, “Nice day, eh?” during a downpour.

3. Dramatic

When your reader knows more than your character. For example, the Geico commercial in which unsuspecting teens hide from a criminal behind an array of chainsaws.

Irony vs. Sarcasm

Irony exposes obvious discrepancies. Sarcasm usually insults or causes harm.

Irony: The victim of a car accident says, “Today is my lucky day!”

Sarcasm: An art gallery patron says, “This is your idea of a masterpiece?”

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