What Is Irony?
Irony is a multifaceted, complicated linguistic concept that’s often distilled to a basic definition for the purposes of getting kids to pass standardized tests: “irony is the opposite of what is expected.” For that purpose, it’s a useful bit of rote recitation; the kind of information that helps you answer a multiple choice question or quick trivia bite.
But, despite being so broad a definition that it’s nearly formless, it doesn’t provide much coverage of what ironic devices are and how we can recognize and use them. The result is that even most native English speakers have more of a gut feeling about what is and isn’t irony, but might struggle to define irony without saying “irony is . . . like . . . when something’s ironic, you know?”
The New American Oxford Dictionary fortunately goes into a bit more detail than your average English-speaker caught unawares by a vocabulary question, presenting three definitions:
1) “The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.”
2) “A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.”
3) “A literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.”
Merriam-Webster adds another definition, which also shows Classical Greek influence:
4) “A pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning—also called Socratic irony.”
Each of these definitions corresponds to one of these four types of irony:
What Is Verbal Irony?
Since this is an article about writing, let’s start with verbal irony—the type of irony that you do with wordplay. Since repetition is the mother of memory, here’s the definition again (courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary):
-“The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.”
Think of verbal irony as sarcasm’s deeper, less malignant cousin.
While sarcasm is often intended to criticize a target, verbal irony isn’t so aggressive. It’s like the difference between laughing at and laughing with someone. With verbal irony, the audience is in on the joke, rather than the butt of the joke. Let’s look at some examples of verbal irony vs. sarcasm in the context of two people standing outside in a torrential downpour.
Verbal irony:-”Hey, nice weather we’re having.”-”Yeah, I might hit the beach later.”
See? In this exchange, both parties are in on the joke. They both understand that the weather sucks, which is such an obvious fact that it’d be redundant to say “Wow, pretty rainy, huh?” Instead, each party remarks on the obviously inclement weather using verbal irony. It adds just enough complexity and humor to the comment so as not to be a totally boring claim, and to avoid directly complaining. Note that verbal irony isn’t necessarily ha-ha funny (kind of like improv).
Sarcasm:-”Man, I’m soaked through my tee-shirt.”-”Yeah, way to wear a raincoat, genius.”
See how the second person in this exchange is attacking the first person? Don’t be misled by the term “genius” here—it is not sincere. If you read the subtext and understand sarcasm, you’ll understand that what person number two is actually saying here is “Wear a raincoat when it’s raining, moron.”
So, to reiterate: there is common ground between verbal irony and sarcasm, in that they both express meaning by using language that would signify the opposite of the speaker’s intent for emphasis, humor, or both. Sarcasm just tends to be meaner, and more clearly targets the person being addressed.
Do note that sarcasm, like verbal irony, can also be playful and not particularly malignant. Many English-speakers show affection via feigned aggression, and that can include sarcasm. Still, playful sarcasm remains sarcasm, as opposed to verbal irony, because the addressee is the target. Whether the goal is playful ribbing or total social-emotional devastation, sarcasm is a device with a target.
Verbal irony is more about creating contradictory subtext to convey meaning in unconventional ways than it is about hurting anyone’s feelings.
What Is Situational Irony?
Once again, situational irony is defined as:
“A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.”
This is the meaning that most closely resembles the basic “irony is the opposite of what is expected” definition. Situational irony subverts expectations, contradicting an audience’s predictions—predictions that a reader makes based on their experience with more typical, formulaic prose that adheres to genre tropes and cliches.
Part of the trick with subverting audience expectations is to first establish a familiar pattern that leads the audience to predict the sort of conclusion they’re used to seeing. Situational irony suggests a typical scenario, then pulls a twist that surprises the reader (or viewer). It’s an important storytelling device that needs to follow some fundamental structural rules in order to be considered comprehensible and appealing to most readers.
Some of these rules are harder to bend or break than others. For example, the beginning, middle, and end narrative structure , which features a climax and conclusion, is a well-worn but also well-proven way to craft a story that people can intuitively understand. You can subvert these basics, and you might have to if you plan on writing mind-bending time-travel sci-fi, but the further you stray from the formula, the more likely you are to alienate some of your audience. Consider Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Most will agree that the movie was a mind-trip, but beyond that, opinion seems split between people who thought it was compelling, and those that found it convoluted and difficult to follow. Making your writing logical and easy to follow can be difficult, but ProWritingAid's Transition Report is here to help make the process a little easier.
However, if you play things too safe and stay entirely within the ruts of writers who came before you, you risk boring your audience. Situational irony allows for the best of both worlds: a grounded narrative structure that speaks to the way we understand stories and does not attempt to reinvent the wheel, but that includes twists and subversions that may surprise the reader—a marriage of the familiar with the unfamiliar.
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Let’s look to pop fiction for some examples of situational irony (spoiler warning, since we’re going to be dealing with some plot twists here):
The Sixth Sense
The first and most blatant example of situational irony in film that comes to mind is The Sixth Sense. A child psychologist is working with a troubled boy who can communicate with the dead. Plenty of movies had covered the “adult tries to figure out spooky kid” story before the movie came out in 1999. Still, the story was unique, and not because director M. Night Shyamalan totally reinvented the wheel. Instead, he took advantage of the audience’s familiarity with the formula to throw them off the scent of the big twist—that the child psychologist was just another dead person that the boy could talk to. This bit of situational irony made the movie unique, despite the fact that it otherwise followed convention.
Ridley Scott’s Alien is another great example. Given the benefit of several decades’ worth of hindsight, it’s obvious that Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, is the protagonist of Alien and its sequels. But for the first act of the 1979 space horror flick, it’s unclear who among the Nostromo’s crew is actually the protagonist. Captain Dallas probably seemed the most obvious candidate: he’s in charge, he hatches the plan for fighting the alien, and he looks the part of the late 1970s masculine hero (bearded and everything). But then he’s killed by the alien, and we realize Sigourney Weaver was the one who would end up the hero. Oh, and one of the crew was a secret android the whole time. What originally seemed to be a relatively masculine sci-fi monster movie evolves seamlessly into a female-driven film and series that deals heavily in themes of fertility and motherhood. This is what makes the story unique and seminal, and often superior to its copycat films that forget to subvert expectations in a fresh way.
Or, while we’re in the endless void of space, how about Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that he’s his father? That was not what audiences in 1980 expected would happen after Vader cuts off Luke’s hand (which was also unexpected). Not only did this revelation subvert audience expectations and make Darth Vader far more interesting, it built energy for the plot to move forward and find its true themes: family, legacy, fear, and self-reflection. That’s situational irony, and it can elevate a boring story about “good guy vs. evil guy” into something profound, like “good guy (who kissed his own sister) vs. his corrupted father.”
Lamb to the Slaughter
If you’re looking for a slightly more literary example, see the Roald Dahl short story, Lamb to the Slaughter. Spoilers, of course: in the story, a wife murders her husband by bludgeoning him with a frozen leg of lamb. When the investigating detectives come around, the wife cooks the lamb and feeds it to them for dinner. The situational irony here: the murderer has disposed of the murder weapon by feeding it to the homicide detectives. (This short story was published in 1953, well before Hannibal Lecter taught us all to never go to a murder suspect’s house for dinner.)
What Is Dramatic Irony?
“A literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.”
Or, in fewer words: dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that a character doesn’t.
An early and prominent example of dramatic irony is Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Here, Oedipus learns of a prophecy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. Learning his fate, Oedipus tries as hard as he can to avoid it, which is complicated by the fact that he thought he never knew his real parents. As the play goes on, the audience learns first what Oedipus cannot see for himself: that he has already fulfilled this prophecy, having unknowingly killed his father in a road rage incident, and having already fathered two sister-daughters with the woman who abandoned him to exposure as an infant. Only at the end does Oedipus realize what we (and Jocasta, his mother-wife) have already learned. That’s when he gouges out his own eyes, thereby matching physical blindness to the metaphorical blindness that prevented him from seeing the truth in his own prophecy (and the futility of trying to avoid it in the first place).
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another: during the final scene, they employ dramatic irony as the audience knows that Juliet has only taken a sleeping potion that makes her appear dead. Romeo, believing her to be dead (and unaware of how to check for a pulse, presumably), swallows some real poison, killing himself.
More generally, the first act of any horror film or fiction where the characters do not yet realize they’re in a horror movie. Perhaps a family has just signed papers purchasing an old mansion, and the title of the film is Chateau de Killhouse. While they cheerfully unpack boxes, we, the audience, are fully aware that at least 90 minutes of horror await them. Dramatic irony separates us from the characters we’re observing, highlighting the difference between their limited awareness and our relative omnipotence. That we cannot tell the characters what we already know creates tension, and tension is good.
What Is Socratic Irony
Last and, honestly, least (unless you’re a professor of philosophy) is Socratic irony. Once again:
“[Socratic irony is a] pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning—also called Socratic irony.”
Socratic irony is a big part of the Socratic method (go figure). In the Socratic method, a teacher plies a student with rhetorical questioning that’s designed to stimulate new lines of thought and eliminate potential hypotheses. Part of that method basically involves tricking your debate opponent into thinking they’re much smarter than you are. The hopeful result is that your opponent begins to underestimate you and overestimate themselves. By the time they realize you were feigning idiocy the whole time, you’ve sprung your logical trap. It’s the same idea that’s behind pool sharking.
Why is this “irony”? Because the person practicing Socratic irony is not saying what they mean, albeit to a constructive end (separating it from pure dishonesty or sarcasm).
Hopefully this post has clarified irony for you. If it's only made you more confused, that would probably be ironic. When in doubt, try connecting your situation to one of the four dictionary definitions listed above.
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The definition of irony as a literary device is a situation in which there is a contrast between expectation and reality. For example, the difference between what something appears to mean versus its literal meaning. Irony is associated with both tragedy and humor.
Verbal irony tends to be funny; situational irony can be funny or tragic; and dramatic irony is often tragic.
- A fire station burns down. ...
- A marriage counselor files for divorce. ...
- The police station gets robbed. ...
- A post on Facebook complains about how useless Facebook is. ...
- A traffic cop gets his license suspended because of unpaid parking tickets. ...
- A pilot has a fear of heights.
There are 3 different types of irony: dramatic, verbal, and situational. Each has a different definition and function in storytelling.
Situational irony is the irony of something happening that is very different to what was expected. Some everyday examples of situational irony are a fire station burning down, or someone posting on Twitter that social media is a waste of time.
Situational irony (i.e., a difference between the expected and actual outcomes of a situation or action) Dramatic irony (i.e., an audience knowing something the characters don't)
The third, and debated, use of irony regards what's called situational irony. Situational irony involves a striking reversal of what is expected or intended: a person sidesteps a pothole to avoid injury and in doing so steps into another pothole and injures themselves.
“Father of Traffic Safety” William Eno invented the stop sign, crosswalk, traffic circle, one-way street, and taxi stand—but never learned how to drive. A prime example of irony, as he never got the chance to benefit from his own invention.
- I failed to detect any irony in his tone. ...
- He loved the irony of the situation. ...
- In an irony of war, they were shelled by their own artillery. ...
- I appreciated the irony of his response when he said, "Lucky us," when he learned we would have to work all weekend.
dramatic irony Add to list Share. If you're watching a movie about the Titanic and a character leaning on the balcony right before the ship hits the iceberg says, "It's so beautiful I could just die," that's an example of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters don't.
dramatic irony, a literary device by which the audience's or reader's understanding of events or individuals in a work surpasses that of its characters.
“Structural irony refers to an implication of alternate or reversed meaning that pervades a work. A major technique for sustaining structural irony is the use of a naïve protagonist or unreliable narrator who continually interprets events and intentions in ways that the author signals are mistaken” .
Situational Irony occurs when actions or events have the opposite result from what is expected or what is intended. Examples of Situational Irony: 1. Ralph wakes up late and thinks he is going to be late to school. After rushing around to get dressed, he realizes it is Saturday.
tragic irony. noun. the use of dramatic irony in a tragedy (originally, in Greek tragedy), so that the audience is aware that a character's words or actions will bring about a tragic or fatal result, while the character himself is not.
- Dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when your audience has more information than your character(s) in a story. ...
- Situational irony. Situational irony is when the outcome of a situation is totally different from what people expect. ...
- Verbal irony.
While you're not wrong, using all types of irony can help create suspense, invoke particular emotions, or inform our opinion of a character and their motivations.
Irony is when we say one thing but mean another, usually the opposite of what we say.
Teach the 3 different types of irony (dramatic, situational, & verbal irony) in your classroomat at ❰StoryboardThat❱! ✩ It's never been easier with visual examples & student activities.
Do you want your students to be able to identify and explain irony on their own?. Students identify types of irony in literature by using a character likeness on their storyboard.. Students create storyboards that show and explain each type of irony as found in the work of literature; using specific quotes from the text which highlight the irony.. Montresor appeared to mean that the cough was harmless, but what he was also saying was that he planned to kill Fortunato.. In Great Expectations , Pip and the audience both do not know who his benefactor is.. ELA Common Core Standards for Grades 9-12 ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 : Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone). The student has clearly provided the reader with three different examples of irony and they are clearly explained in an exemplary way.. Student has provided a clear example of the effect of all three types of irony and explained in great detail.
Definition, Usage and a list of Verbal Irony Examples in literature. Verbal irony occurs when a speaker speaks something contradictory to what he intends to.
Verbal irony occurs when a speaker speaks something contradictory to what he intends to say.. To define it simply, it occurs when a character uses a statement with underlying meanings that contrast with its literal meaning; it shows that the writer has used verbal irony.. Otherwise, both are common in that both are types of verbal irony, or both use words to ironize some person, quality, or thing.. Verbal irony means to use words to show contrary to what actually is said about a situation, person or fact, the Socratic irony is marked with ignorance.. One fine example of verbal irony occurs when Tiresias refuses to reveal the prophecy to Oedipus.. Snicket uses verbal irony by employing ironic simile .. Through verbal irony, writers and poets can convey their bitter messages indirectly, in a less bitter and more effective way.
Satire examples help show the different approaches of this literary device. Get an inside look at the meaning of satire with classic and modern examples.
Satire is the use of humor, irony or hyperbole to critique something or someone, particularly in the context of political or social issues.. Satire is used in many works of literature to show foolishness or vice in humans, organizations, or even governments — using sarcasm, ridicule or irony.. In particular, satire is often used to comment on and even influence the political or social events of the time.. Some satire is explicitly political, while other examples of satire in literature, film, TV, and online take on a wider variety of topics.. Political satire is one of the most common and significant forms of satire.. It can take the form of scathing comedy or parody or take a more direct approach to criticize individuals or entire governments.. Creators have used many forms of media over the years to comment on politics, including newspapers, songs, art, movies, TV shows, and more.. Satire has been a part of literature since the beginning of the written word.. As the reader follows them through hard times, Dickens draws their attention to the inequality and effects of industrialization on the lower classes.. In addition to satirizing science fiction tropes, Adams also critiqued the foolishness of people, organizations and governments.. Get Out is a horror film that takes a disturbingly satirical look at racial tension and inequality in 21st century America.. Many satirical publications can be found online, including the aforementioned The Onion .
Browsing rhetorical devices examples can help you learn different ways to embolden your writing. Uncover what they look like and their impact with our list.
Examples of Parallelism in Literature and Rhetoric Parallelism is often referred to as one of the basic principles of grammar and rhetoric, and you’ll see its use throughout literature.. Parallelism has slightly different meanings, depending on the context, but it’s about balancing the weight or structure of ideas and phrases.. In rhetoric, parallelism means balancing two or more ideas or arguments that are equally important.. In grammar, it means using phrasing that is grammatically similar or identical in structure, sound, meaning, or meter.. As you can see from literary examples, this technique adds symmetry, effectiveness, and balance to the written piece.
Discover over 3o rhetorical devices with this extensive list — complete with examples of the devices in action.
Rhetorical devices (also known as stylistic devices, persuasive devices, or simply rhetoric) are techniques or language used to convey a point or convince an audience.. If you haven’t, don’t let their elaborate Greek names fool you — rhetorical devices are actually pretty easy to implement.. But before we dive into the different types of devices and how to use them, let’s identify the four ways that rhetorical devices work.. Like many other rhetorical devices, this is a linguistic trick to make statements sound more persuasive.. (Learn more about the difference between alliteration and consonance — and other types of repetition — in this guide !). For example, the opening sentence of Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a famous anacoluthon because it ends somewhere entirely different than where it started:. Anadiplosis is the repetition of the word from the end of one sentence to the beginning of the next.. Another, similar rhetorical device is epistrophe: the repetition of words at the end of sentences.. Antanagoge doesn't necessarily solve the initial problem, but it does provide an appealing alternative.. Antiphrasis is a sentence or phrase that means the opposite of what it appears to say.. (Ask not what rhetorical devices can do for you.. Ask what you can do for rhetorical devices.). Most racial epithets started as the latter, but are recognized today as the former.. Technically, this figure of speech is called interrogatio, but plenty of other rhetorical devices take the form of questions.. Synecdoche is a rhetorical device wherein a part of one thing represents its whole.
Looking for SIMILE EXAMPLES? Look no further! This page has 100 EXAMPLES OF SIMILE separated into an E ASY and HARD list.
The gray of the sea, and the gray of the sky, / A glimpse of the moon like a half-closed eye.. Then, as a hunted deer that could not flee, I turned upon my thoughts and stood at bay, wounded and weak and panting; There are thick woods where many a fountain, rivulet, and pond are as clear as elemental diamond.. She was like a modest flower blown in sunny June and warm as sun at noon’s high hour.. Anchor Standards CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 – Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.
I. What is Wordplay? Wordplay (or word play, and also called play-on-words) is the clever and witty use of words and meaning. It involves using literary devices and techniques like[...]
Wordplay (or word play , and also called play-on-words ) is the clever and witty use of words and meaning.. It involves using literary devices and techniques like consonance, assonance, spelling, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, acronym, pun, and slang (to name a few) to form amusing and often humorous written and oral expressions.. Using wordplay techniques relies on several different aspects of rhetoric, like spelling, phonetics (sound and pronunciation of words), and semantics (meaning of words).. Idioms are popular, culturally understood phrases that generally have a figurative meaning.. There are all different rhyme schemes that writers use, from rhyming every word to just rhyming the first or last word of a line.. Here, Dr. Seuss needed a creature that rhymes with the word “cans,” so he decided to create one called a “Zans.” You can see the author’s wordplay clearly here—he uses not only made-up words, but rhyming as well; the signature Dr. Seuss style!. Here, Romeo uses wordplay to speak about both dancing and his broken heart.. First, he refers to Mercurio’s shoes’ “nimble soles,” but says he himself has a “soul of lead”—this means he both has a heavy heart, but also shoe soles of lead would “stake” him to the ground so that he “cannot move,” making it impossible to dance.. This chapter title makes a pun out of “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”. Here, Pooh mistakes Owl’s use of the word “issue” as the sound “ achoo ,” which as you know is associated with sneezing.
In blockbuster films and best-selling books, there are certain types of characters that appear repeatedly. They're known as character archetypes.
They're known as character archetypes.. Some people say there are five common character archetypes.. Jung decreed that there are 12 character archetypes – and we'll explain them all below.. A bit of background: Jung believed that human beings all over the world have a universal character (archetype) within them, and that each of the twelve primary types has its own set of values, meanings, and personality traits.. He collected the twelve common archetypes into three sets of four – ego, soul, and self – with each set sharing the same motivation for why they do things.. Often a child, this archetypal character is someone who sees the world as a good and wholesome place... until something happens to change their perspective.. As they go through the story, this character type will learn some tough lessons about the world, and do some growing up.. While this archetypal character doesn't literally need to be an orphan, they're often looking for a new family.. Examples: Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, Luke Skywalker – Star Wars , Frodo – The Lord of the Rings. Strengths: Confidence, talent, physical / mental strength. The rebel character type is a person who won't settle for the status quo.. This character archetype will do anything for love.. Examples: Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars , Gandalf – The Lord of the Rings , Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter. Forget cute old men in silk shirts pulling rabbits out of hats – the magician character archetype can be a lot more sinister.