Irony – A Writer’s Secret Weapon 🏹

What is Irony?

Irony is a figure of speech originating in Greek tragedy in which words are used to convey a meaning opposite of their literal meaning. It often expresses humor, emphasis, or sarcasm. Irony draws attention to the contrast between what appears to be occurring and what actually is.


Irony is one of the most versatile literary devices in a writer’s tool box. That is because it is usually easily identifiable and often used humorously or sarcastically. It can be bold or subtle, elegant or snarky. No matter how it is used, it almost always gets the reader’s attention and alerts them that something is more than it seems.

How to pronounce Irony?


When do writers use Irony?

Writers use Irony to create a contrast between what is expected and what actually happens. It can create humor, emphasize a point, or add depth to a story. Irony can be suspenseful or surprising and may even shock the reader.

How to use Irony?

  • Make sure the context of the situation is easily understood. Irony often loses its effect if the audience does not understand the context.
  • Use Irony sparingly. Too much Irony can be confusing and can make your point less effective.
  • Use Irony to make a point or to emphasize a certain idea.
  • Be aware of the tone you are using. Irony should be used in a lighthearted or humorous way unless you are using it sarcastically. When using irony in a sarcastic way, a dry tone is also acceptable.
  • Use Irony to make a joke or to poke fun at someone or something.

Types of Irony

  • Verbal Irony — When a speaker says one thing but means another. If someone says, “What a great day!” while it is raining, this is an example of verbal irony.
  • Situational Irony — When the outcome of a situation is the opposite of what is expected. For example, if a fire station catches on fire, this is situational irony because those responsible for putting out the fire are actually the victims of the fire.
  • Dramatic Irony — When the audience knows something that the characters in a story do not. If a character is unaware that they are being followed, but the audience is privy to this fact, this is an example of dramatic irony.
  • Tragic Irony — Highlights a character’s actions or statements that have the opposite effect of what they intend, often with tragic consequences. It is often used in plays and novels to create a sense of dramatic tension and to reveal the character’s true nature. The audience or reader is aware of the situation while the character is not.

Irony in Literature 📚

  • The most classic example of tragic irony is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Romeo kills himself believing Juliet to be dead when she is, in fact,  still alive.
  • In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain — Huck and Jim are trying to escape slavery, but Huck ends up freeing a slave who turns out to be Jim’s long-lost daughter.
  • In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles — Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother, fulfilling the prophecy he was trying to avoid.
  • In The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger — Holden Caulfield is trying to protect children from the corruption of adulthood but ends up being corrupted himself.
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde –Dorian Gray remains young and beautiful while his portrait ages and becomes ugly, reflecting his sins. While ironic, this example is more complex in that it may be viewed as both dramatic and tragic. The aging of the portrait creates an element of suspense but in the end, the portrait is also Dorian’s weakness.

Irony in Children Books 🧸

  • The Iron Man” by Ted Hughes — In this classic children’s book, a giant metal creature appears out of nowhere and begins to wreak havoc on the countryside. The Iron Man destroying the countryside is ironic because  is actually a force of good, protecting the people from a monster that threatens to destroy them.
  • “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White — In this classic children’s book, a spider named Charlotte helps a pig named Wilbur to escape certain death. The irony is that Charlotte is actually a spider, a creature that is usually seen as a pest.

Irony in Songs 🎧

  • “A no smoking sign on your cigarette break” – “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette — This song is a classic example of irony, filled with multiple examples of situational irony such as the lyric highlighted here.
  • “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones — This song is ironic because it talks about how you can’t always get what you want, but in the end you get what you need.

Irony in Poetry ✍🏽

  • John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” — In this poem, Donne uses Irony to challenge the power of death. He writes that death is not something to be feared, but rather something to be conquered.
  • William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us” — In this poem, Wordsworth uses Irony to criticize the modern world’s obsession with materialism and its disregard for nature.

Irony in Movies 🎥

  • The Truman Show (1998) — The Irony in this movie is that Truman, the main character, is living in a world that is completely fabricated and he is the only one who doesn’t know it.
  • Forrest Gump (1994) — The Irony in this movie is that Forrest Gump, who is portrayed as a simple-minded man, is actually quite intelligent and has a lot of insight into the world.
  • The Sixth Sense (1999) — The Irony in this movie is that the main character, Malcolm Crowe, is a child psychologist who is trying to help a young boy who can see dead people, but he himself is unable to see them.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Irony in Advertising 📺

  • Burger King’s “Have it Your Way” campaign — This campaign was ironic because Burger King was encouraging customers to customize their orders, while at the same time, the company was not allowing its employees to customize their own work schedules.
  • KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” campaign — This campaign was ironic because KFC was encouraging customers to enjoy their food, while at the same time, the company was not providing its employees with adequate safety measures to protect them from the dangers of working with hot oil.
  • Apple’s “Think Different” campaign — This campaign was ironic because Apple was encouraging customers to think differently, while at the same time, the company was not allowing its employees to think differently.

Related literary devices 👥

  • Satire — Both a genre and a literary device, satire is often confused with irony because this type of writing is heavily dependent on irony, and oftentimes, sarcasm. Examples of satire include: A Modest Proposal by Jonathon Swift and the more modern newspaper article, “Want to end school shootings? Let’s just arm the kids.” by controversial journalist Allen Kerr.