1. Definition
The origin of Irony

2. The types of Irony

3. Irony VS sarcasm

1. Definition

Let us first see some authentic explanation from the Oxford dictionary.

  1. ====Expression of one’s meaning by saying the direct opposite of one’s thoughts in order to be emphatic, amusing, and sarcastic. [1]

Ex: A: It is rainy outside.

B: what lovely weather.

====2. Situation, event, etc that is desirable in itself but so unexpected or ill-timed that it appears to be deliberately perverse.[2]

Ex: He inherited a fortune but died a month later.

When you finally got the job, he discovered he didn’t like it.

To sum up, irony traditionally means that the opposite side of what one says and knows. In literature, irony as a rhetorical tool is widely used to achieve the effect of being humorous or surprising. Irony in literature is subtle and witty, and requires a close awareness of the text to understand the irony.

The Origin of Irony

The term irony comes from the Greek term "eironeia", meaning dissimulation, ignorance purposely affected. The term came into English in 16th century, meaning a feature of speech.

2. Types of Irony

  • Verbal irony: Verbal irony is the use of word to express the opposite literal meaning of the wordverbal.jpg

In the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dimmesdale confesses at the congregation that he is the “worst of sinners”. But his congregation respect him more because his confession. What Dimmesdale wants is to be treated and shunned as Hester, but the congregation does in the exact opposite way. The irony is that what Dimmesdale says and wants is taken oppositely by others, which he does not intend to lead to such a result.
In the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, he knows he will tell the story “with a sigh”, because he thinks another choice may lead to total difference. However, at the end of the poem, he still thinks that nothing to regret.

  • Situational irony: Situational irony occurs in drama or literature to describe the situation or result that is different from what we thought.


THE Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where;
Nor any drop to drink.
The irony of the example is that although water existed everywhere, but none and be drinken.
Another example:If Bill Gates, the president of Microsoft, wins a contest. And the prize of the contest is a computer system. The irony is situational because we all know that Bill Gates has the world’s largest software company. He is so rich that to compete in such a contest for such a prize is ridiculous.
O Henry's short story the Gift of the Magi describes a poor couple who want to buy a Christmas gift for each other. The wife Magi cuts off her beautiful long hair and sells it to but a chain for her husband's heirloom pocket watch. While her husband pawns the watch to buy her combs for her beautiful long hair. She was shocked at the her husband's gift.

  • Tragic irony or dramtic irony: Tragic irony lays in the irony words and actions of the characters, which betray the real situation, which the spectators fully realize, but the character themselves do not know it.tragic1.jpg


In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, when Romeo finds Juliet in a drugged sleep, he thinks she was already dead, and then he kills himself. After Juliet wakes up and saw her lover dead, she kills herself too. The irony is that both of them is alive, but as a result, they ended in suiciding for each other. But their original purpose is to be together, not together dead.
In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Oedipus becomes the king and marries his mother. When Oedipus is looking for the murderer of the former king, who he vows to find and punish. He doesn’t know that the murderer is himself, of which the audiences are aware. When he says he would find the murderer and punish him, he means to punish himself. This is where the irony lays.

3. Irony VS Sarcasm

Some people may mix up irony with sarcasm. In fact, sarcasm is different from irony. Sarcasm is mockery, sneering, or making fun of another person, situation or object. Some argue that sarcasm is a form of irony, while others claim that sarcasm contains irony.

Sarcasm also serves as a literary tool that the writer state the opposite of what he intends to convey. It may be used in an indirect way, for example: “what a lovely dog.”which means the opposite: "I hate the dog!" from this view, it has the same form of irony. It can also be used in direct way, such as: “Can you be more disgusting?”, which means you are too disgusting. Sarcasm is a form of utilize of irony. Normally we consider sarcasm as a form of wit, while irony can be found in and type of situation. Irony has many forms (types of irony), while sarcasm are mostly verbal.

links types of irony the example of different types of irony the origin of irony Sperber, D.&D. Wilson Irony and the Use-Mention Distinction
  1. ^ ====
    • Oxford advanced leaner's English-Chinese dictionary
  2. ^ ====
    Oxford advanced leaner's English-Chinese dictionary