Irony English Language

Who doesn’t love a bit of irony? It’s something that is used so frequently in everyday conversations you may not even notice at first. So now’s a chance for you to note what irony is and why we use it! 

Irony English Language Irony English Language

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Table of contents

    We will explore the four different types of irony and look at some examples from daily life and literature/film.

    Irony Meaning

    Irony is a language technique used to show a contradiction between what you expect to happen and what actually happens. It is an example of a figure of speech, as what is figuratively said/done contradicts the literal meaning. It is also often referred to as a rhetorical device because it is used to persuade people to perceive something from a different point of view.

    An example of irony is:

    A person saying, 'I'm loving the gorgeous weather' when it is raining means the opposite of what they are saying!

    Why do people use Irony?

    Different types of irony can evoke different emotions from a listener/audience. Here are some reasons why people may use irony:

    • To create tension and suspense
    • To create a sense of shock or surprise
    • To gain sympathy
    • To give an insight into what a person or character is really like
    • To create a humorous effect

    Types of Irony

    There are four main types of irony. These are as follows:

    • Dramatic

    • Situational

    • Verbal

    • Comic

    We will now look at each of these individually, focusing on what they mean and the effect they have on an audience. We will also look at some examples, both in everyday life and literature/film.

    Dramatic Irony

    Dramatic irony refers to when someone in a situation is unaware of what will happen, but other people (including the reader or viewer) know.

    Irony, cupids bow, studysmarterFig. 1 - Dramatic irony can be used in romance tales to let the audience know what will happen.

    Examples of dramatic irony in everyday life

    Picture this:

    You’ve just been talking badly about someone in front of your friends. All of your friends can see, but you are unaware that the person you were talking badly about is standing right behind you! This is an example of dramatic irony because your friends know something important that you don’t yet know.

    Another example would be:

    One of your friends has been sitting on a bench, but the bench had a puddle, so they now have a wet patch on their clothes. You and your other friends laugh about it. But, they all notice that you also have wet clothes, and you have no idea!

    Situations like these can be embarrassing once you find out…but they happen to the best of us! Can you think of any more examples of dramatic irony in real life? Maybe even something that has happened to you?

    Examples of dramatic irony in literature and film

    Macbeth (1606) - Shakespeare

    Someone familiar with dramatic irony was Shakespeare! In Macbeth, he explored dramatic irony through interactions with Macbeth and his cousin Duncan. In Act 1, scene 4, Duncan expresses his appreciation towards Macbeth after he fights in battle, portraying a sense of trust:

    'O worthiest cousin, the sin of my ingratitude even now was heavy on me.'

    Macbeth shows his loyalty to Duncan in return:

    The service and the loyalty I owe in doing it pays itself.'

    From Duncan’s point of view, Macbeth is faithful and reliable, as he is given no reason to believe that anything bad will happen between them. However, the audience is aware of something that Duncan is not… Macbeth plans to kill Duncan!

    Macbeth may have been fooling Duncan, but the audience knew his true intentions. In this instance, dramatic irony is effective because it creates a sense of tension and makes the audience feel more involved, encouraging them to be more engaged as the story unfolds.

    Can you think of any more instances of dramatic irony in Macbeth?

    Killing Eve - BBC America (2018-2022)

    In the television show Killing Eve, dramatic irony is explored through the main character, Villanelle. She is a Russian assassin who disguises herself before carrying out her kills. This makes her unrecognisable to the unsuspecting victims and allows her to manipulate them in different ways. The audience is always aware of the real person behind the many costumes and accent changes, so they know when she is about to make her move. Her victims, though, have no idea!

    The fact that the audience is ahead of the victims creates a sense of suspense, allowing them to become immersed in the interactions between the characters as they await the moments that they know are coming!

    Have you ever wanted to shout at a character through the screen because you knew something they didn’t?

    Situational Irony

    Situational irony refers to when a situation expected to happen is different from what actually happens.

    Examples of situational irony in everyday life

    Imagine this:

    You are on a plane, but the pilot is afraid of heights!

    This is an example of situational irony because pilots spend most of their time high in the air, so you wouldn’t expect them to be scared!

    Another example is:

    A man gets injured and calls an ambulance. However, he gets run over by the same ambulance he just called!

    This is an example of situational irony as the man is hurt by the very thing that he expected to help him!

    Examples of situational irony in literature and film

    If you like reading and watching movies, you can look for situational irony in your favourite pieces.

    Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (1953)

    This book explores a future American society in which books are banned. Firefighters burn any books that are found. This is an example of situational irony because firefighters are supposed to put out fires, not create them!

    Fun fact: This novel is often banned in schools in America, which is ironic because it is about banned books and censorship.

    The Sixth Sense - M. Night Shyamalan (1999)

    This film explores the story of Malcolm, who is a child psychologist. He aims to help Cole, a boy who can see dead people. However, it is not until the end of the film that it is revealed that Malcolm has been dead the whole time! This is an example of situational irony as it is an unexpected twist.

    Verbal Irony

    Verbal irony refers to when someone says the opposite of what they really mean.

    Examples of verbal irony in everyday life

    Picture this:

    You are playing football on a muddy field, and your clothes are filthy. Your friend comes up to you and says, 'You look so clean today.' What they actually mean is that you look so dirty!

    Another example is:

    You are running late for work, and your car tyre is flat. You say to yourself, 'This is just great!' What you really mean is that you’re having a bad day.

    Examples of verbal irony in literature and film

    Here are a few examples of verbal irony you can find in books and films.

    The Unauthorised Autobiography - Lemony Snicket (2002)

    Verbal irony is used in the following quote:

    'Today was a very cold and bitter day, as cold and bitter as a cup of hot chocolate.'

    This is an example of verbal irony, as hot chocolate is usually not cold or bitter.

    Friends - NBC (1994-2004)

    In the episode of Friends titled 'The One Where Ross Is Fine', verbal irony is used by the character Ross. He tries to convince the others that he is doing okay by saying in a high-pitched voice, 'I’m fine!' In reality, though… Ross is not fine.

    Fun fact: In total, Ross says that he is fine nine times throughout the episode!

    Verbal irony vs sarcasm - is there a difference?

    It is easy to get confused between verbal irony and sarcasm. They are both used to saying something that means something else, and there should be a mutual understanding that what is being said is supposed to mean the opposite.

    It has been argued that sarcasm is just a form of verbal irony, with some people believing that if verbal irony is used to insult someone, it is sarcasm.

    However, some people think there is a difference between the two, with sarcasm being harsher and more negative.

    So what is a definition of sarcasm?

    Sarcasm is a language technique often used in a bitter but humorous way to make fun of something or mock someone deliberately. For example, someone fails a test, and you say, 'Wow, Einstein, you’re so clever; you did such a good job!' This is a harmful statement in the form of praise, to mock someone.

    Do you think there is a difference between sarcasm and verbal irony? Or do you believe sarcasm should be considered a form of verbal irony?

    What is Comic Irony?

    Comic irony refers to the irony that is used to create humour. This can be in the form of dramatic, situational or verbal irony.

    Example of comic irony in everyday life

    An example of comic irony is shown in the image below:

    Irony, words in stone, studysmarterFig. 2 - Comic irony can be used to create humour in everyday life.

    Can you think of why this could be considered comic irony?

    Examples of comic irony in literature and film

    This final paragraph provides some examples of comic irony.

    Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (1813)

    There is a popular example of comic irony (verbal) within the first line of this novel:

    'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'

    Here, irony is used to humorously speak to society's expectations at the time. In reality, women were expected to rely on a man, as men were the main earners of a family and the women were the home keepers. So, this is an ironic statement as it is expected for a woman to seek out a man with a lot of money, not for a man to be eagerly searching for a wife to be dependent on.

    Ratatouille - Disney Pixar (2007)

    The entire plot of this comedic Disney film could be considered comic irony! The film centres around the life of a rat aspiring to be a chef. In reality, if a rat is in a kitchen near the food, it is usually a sign of bad hygiene. So, to have a chef rat cooking in the kitchen is funnily unexpected!

    Irony - Key Takeaways

    • Irony is a technique in the English language that shows a contradiction between what is expected to happen and what actually happens.

    • Irony is a figure of speech and a rhetorical device.

    • Dramatic irony refers to when someone in a situation doesn’t know what will happen, but other people do.

    • Situational irony refers to when a situation expected to happen is different from what really happens.

    • Verbal irony refers to when someone says something but means the opposite.

    • Comic irony refers to when the irony is used to create humour. It can be in the form of dramatic, situational or verbal irony.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Irony English Language

    What is irony?

    Irony is a language technique used to show when something expected to happen contradicts what actually happens.

    What is an example of irony?

    A fire station burning down is an example of irony.

    What does dramatic irony mean?

    Dramatic irony is when a person does not know what will happen in a specific situation, but others do.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Comic irony can only be in the form of verbal irony.True or false?

    True or false?Irony is never used in a humorous way.

    True or false?Irony differs from coincidence.

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