There are three types of irony:
  • Verbal Irony. Verbal irony is an expression (often delivered sarcastically or humorously) to express the opposite of its literal meaning. (It is a synonym for sarcasm.)
  • Dramatic Irony. Dramatic irony is an event the significance of which is known only to observers (typically, the audience) and not the participants (typically, the actors).
  • Situational Irony. Situational irony is an event which occurs seemingly in mockery of the circumstances.

Easy Examples of Irony

Verbal irony:
  • That's just what I needed. (i.e., It isn't.)
  • I'm so glad it's raining. (i.e., I'm not.)
Dramatic irony:
  • There's no evil witch here.
  • (A typical "behind you" moment in a pantomime is an example of dramatic irony.)
Situational irony:
  • Let's examine the words hyphenated and non-hyphenated.
  • The most shoplifted book in America is the Bible.
  • Your the best English teacher ever.
  • (Should be you're.)

More Examples of Irony

Verbal irony:
  • "On a scale of 1 to 10, how old was Michael Jackson's boyfriend?"
  • (Here, nice means not classy.)
Dramatic irony:
  • O my love, my wife! Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath hath had no power yet upon thy beauty. Thou art not conquered. Beauty’s ensign yet is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks. (Romeo Montague from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet)
  • (Romeo wrongly believes Juliet is dead and prepares to take poison to join her.)
Situational irony:
  • James Bellamy, who has campaigned for years against the Dangerous Dogs Act, was hospitalised after a vicious attack by his neighbour's dog.
  • Mr Paul Jones arrived too late to chair a town-planning meeting due to the roads being grid locked with traffic.

Why Should I Care about Irony?

If you're analysing someone else's writing and they've used irony, you ought to recognise it.

Remember, irony covers far more than just situational irony. Comments and events with a twist, an element of unexpectedness or some malintent can usually be shoe-horned into one of the irony types. It is not uncommon for people to argue whether something is an example of irony.

In the mid-90s, a few nerds enthusiastically claimed that the lyrics in Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic" contained no examples of irony, and, having been routinely lambasted for it, she admitted that the irony of "Ironic" was that it contained no irony at all. The real irony, however, is that it contains plenty of lines that could be classified as irony.

Key Point

The term irony covers far more than just situational irony.
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