Types of Irony in Writing

12 Jun 2024 Fiction

Don’t you find it ironic when you hear of an umpire cheating? Or a fire station burning? 

Irony is simply the contrast between two seemingly incongruous facts.

But irony is often misidentified. Readers and writers might describe a scene or a bit of dialogue as ironic when really it’s not.  

Irony highlights the difference between what is and how things appear to be.  

Irony can create humor, satire, or drama by highlighting the incongruity of a situation. Used correctly, you can use irony to create conflict, foreshadow, or even build tension and suspense. This often helps readers recognize inconsistencies and uncover deeper meanings. 

3 Types of Irony

1. Situational

This occurs when readers and characters expect a certain outcome, then the opposite occurs. 

Situational irony can build tension or lead to a plot twist that keeps the reader engaged.  

Situational irony manifests in four subtypes: 


This occurs when a higher power, like a god, magic, fate, or the universe intervenes. A character might appeal to a god, only to see that entity make the situation worse. 


Also known as poetic justice, this form of situational irony refers to a situation often referred to as the trope of “the punishment fitting the crime.“ For example, a character pursuing immortality at all costs dies young.


A character unaware of their true predicament results in structural irony. The character’s ignorance might leave them unaware that they are the Chosen One. 


A character’s intentions causing the opposite of what they’re after results in historical irony. This subset of situational irony offers a great opportunity for character development


  • A marriage counselor filing for divorce. 
  • A judge trying someone for a murder the judge committed, which was the premise for my very first novel, Margo. 

2. Verbal

This occurs when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what is said.

Verbal irony adds complexity to a story by foreshadowing or creating tension between characters. It can also involve humor and uplift a story after a heavy-hitting scene.  


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

Verbal irony can be separated into four subcategories: 


This occurs when someone expresses the opposite of the truth with a snide, insulting, or harmful comment. 


  • The victim of a car accident says, “Today is my lucky day!”
  • An art gallery patron says, “This is your idea of a masterpiece?”


Understatement adds complexity or tension between characters when they avoid saying what they mean, expressing their opinion negatively. 

Example: “He’s not the nicest person.” 


Example: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” 


This rhetorical device shows a character feigning ignorance to get someone to admit guilt, look stupid, or reveal fallacies in their arguments. 

In Legally Blonde, protagonist Elle Woods interrogates a murder victim’s daughter and plays dumb to trick her into confessing. 

3. Dramatic

This occurs when a character is deprived of an important bit of information that the reader knows.

Dramatic irony can build tension in readers as they watch characters make bad decisions and await the big reveal. 

Dramatic irony illuminates difficult choices characters must make.

Sometimes dramatic irony carries tragic consequences, but not always. In a romance, the audience often knows two characters will end up together before the characters do.

Examples of Tragic Irony:

  • In Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, the audience knows Juliet is asleep and not dead while Romeo does not know this.
  • In the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, the audience knows the main character’s tragic fate before he does. When he tries to avoid his fate, he fulfills it. 

Identifying Irony 

Irony is one of the most misidentified and mislabeled literary devices. Practice identifying it in your favorite stories, books, movies, or TV series.

Need more help with your writing? Take a short, free writing assessment at https://jerryjenkins.com/quiz/