It’s raining cats and dogs outside. You and your friend still have a long walk home, and you’re already soaked. You can see lightning in the distance and hear loud booms of thunder.
But your friend turns to you and says, “Isn’t it such a nice day out?”
That’s irony, and it's a figure of speech.
There are many different types of irony, but in general, it’s all about expectations. You expect one thing, but then something else happens.
In the example above, you would expect your friend to be upset about the weather since you’re both caught in the middle of a storm. But your friend likes it! (Or at least the words mean that, even if your friend is being sarcastic and doesn’t really mean them.)
Examples of Irony are everywhere: in conversations, books, movies, and even memes on the internet!
Every country and language has forms of irony or at least examples of it. The actual meaning of a phrase is spun around and given a whole new definition of irony to feign ignorance, be sarcastic, or even dramatize a statement's ironic nature.
The term irony has many historical irony roots. Socratic irony, in particular, stems from the Greek comic character Eiron. This character uses his wit to triumph over the outlandish character Alazon. It is the inspiration for the Platonic dialogues, a series of ironic stories in literature developed by the Greek philosopher Plato in the 4th Century BC.
The three most common types of irony are verbal, dramatic, and situational.
Dramatic irony, in particular, depends on the structure of the work rather than words and is used in both theatre and poetical irony to draw the audience in. In contrast, situational irony is more about the outcome of a situation, where the result is different from what was expected. Some major types of situational irony in literature are in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo kills himself after learning of his lover's death despite her being alive. There are also many examples of situational irony in everyday life, which inspired the 1996 hit song by Alanis Morissette, Ironic.
Regardless of whether you've encountered it before, forms of irony are a great figure of speech to use in your writing.
There are many kinds of irony; some types of irony are used to dramatize, but most of the time, the definition of irony is to spin the literal meaning to make the statement humorous and give effect.
Verbal irony is when someone says something different than what they mean. Most people are familiar with sarcasm, but verbal irony also appears in other types of figure of speech. Here are the four most important types of verbal irony:
This is an example of overstatement or hyperbole. In this form of verbal irony, your statement is more dramatic than the situation requires. Its literal meaning is much more dramatic than the situation needs, which emphasizes the point.
An understatement is the opposite of an overstatement. Rather than being “over the top,” you purposefully make the situation seem less important than it is.
Instead of “overreacting” as you would with overstatement, you’re downplaying the bullying with an understatement.
Sarcasm and irony are often used synonymously, but they’re not actually the same thing. While sarcastic people say something different than what they actually mean (verbal irony), they also intend to make fun of or mock someone else.
There’s cruelty or maliciousness to sarcasm that isn’t necessarily a part of other forms of verbal irony.
Socratic irony has to do with manipulation. In this form of irony, you pretend not to know something in order to get the other person to admit they are wrong.
For instance, you may get someone else to confess a secret or admit they were lying. But you do it by asking questions you already know the answers to.
It’s a trap!
Flip the flashcard for more examples.
Situational irony also has to do with expectations, but you don’t need words. Instead, situational irony is when you expect one thing to occur, but something else happens.
It doesn’t have to be funny, mocking, or malicious. It just has to be different from your expectations.
Drag the meaning to the corresponding type of irony.
Feigning ignorance to expose other people's ignorance.
Exaggerating statements to make them bigger and more dramatic.
Using irony to mock or show contempt humorously.
Presenting something as less important than it is.
The cause and effect of a situation that wasn't expected.
Dramatic irony is a type of irony found in works such as books, plays, or movies. In this type of irony, the audience knows more than the characters within the work. Therefore, you know what will happen before the characters do, which creates tension.
If you like horror movies, you’re probably used to dramatic irony. Often, directors use dramatic irony to increase suspense.
Other times, dramatic irony might feel tense at the moment but be very sweet in the end. This could be the plot of a romantic comedy, for instance:
One benefit of adding dramatic irony to your writing is to get your readers more involved in the plot. They’ll think, “I want to tell the character what’s happening!” – just as you would if you knew there was a cliff that a movie character couldn’t see but was about to drive off.
Irony comes in many forms, and you can find it in both casual conversations, great works of literature, and poetic irony – plus everywhere in between!
As you read books, watch movies, see plays, or simply talk to your friends, try to identify verbal, situational, and dramatic irony. Irony is a fantastic way to enrich language and storytelling.
Also, check out the other pages on this site! There’s lots of great information about other literary terms and grammar topics.