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Examples of Irony

Do you want your students to understand the 3 different types of irony in literature?

Do you want your students to be able to identify and explain irony on their own?

Do you want them to actually enjoy learning about irony?

Then you have come to the right place! Here at Storyboard That, we have developed storyboards, lessons and activities to help you teach the three types of irony and definitions for each. If you really want your students to learn the concept, check out the activities below that will get them creating their own scenarios or finding examples from your current novel study or unit!

Irony Definition

What is Irony?

Most students may not know the definition of irony but they might say they know it when they see it! More than likely your students can provide different types of irony examples without realizing it whether it be plot twists or sarcasm. Merriam Webster says the definition of irony in literature is the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. Within literature, there are different kinds of irony.

What are the types of irony? There are many ways for authors to include irony in their stories. The distance between what a character says and what they actually mean is the essence of a good irony definition. Literature works often include instances where the author reveals something that is the opposite of what is expected. Or, there could be a difference between a character's understanding of a situation vs. the reality of what it actually is. In short, there are examples of verbal, situational and dramatic irony that occur throughout most literary works!

Sarcastic and ironic expressions are not confined to literature. Everyday life is rife with instances that, when observed with a keen eye, can create humor in the mundane and add a touch of amusement to our daily routines.

Irony is a literary device where the chosen words are intentionally used to indicate a meaning other than the literal one. Irony is often mistaken for sarcasm. Sarcasm is actually a form of verbal irony, but sarcasm is usually intentionally insulting. When you say, "Oh, great!" after your drink has spilled all over your expensive new clothes, you don't actually mean that the incident is positive. This type of direct irony is characterized by a clear and intentional expression of the opposite of what is truly meant or felt, leaving little room for misinterpretation and often used for humorous or satirical effect. Here, using the word 'great' ironically indicates a higher negative implication, even though the wording itself is positive. However, the definition in literature is far more expansive! There are many more examples that define or exhibit ironic expressions in literature than just sarcasm. Read on to learn more about the different types of irony.

What are the Three Types of Irony?

In literature, there are three different types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic irony. The sub-set of this literary type can vary within literature and there can be examples of more than one within a given work. Teachers can hold class discussions to point out instances of the three types, or elements of irony within a given novel study. Students can create storyboards to track examples and include definitions and text evidence to demonstrate their understanding of this crucial literary technique.

What are the 3 Types of Irony and their Definitions?

Verbal IronyThe verbal irony definition is when a character uses words to mean something different than what they appear to mean or what the intended meaning usually is.
Situational IronySituational irony's essence lies in the disparity between what is anticipated to occur and what actually unfolds, often playing a crucial role in building tension within a narrative.
Dramatic IronyThe meaning of dramatic irony is when the audience is more aware of what is happening than a character.

More about the Three Types of Irony Definitions

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony examples occur when a character says one thing but actually means the opposite. The definition of verbal irony is when the character intends a meaning that is in contrast with the literal or usual meaning of the words. Verbal irony occurs often in the form of sarcasm or dry humor. However, it can also be more subtle and foreboding as the example below will showcase from "The Cask of Amontillado". Many students are well versed in verbal irony whether they know it or not! They may often say one thing and mean the exact opposite: "We have homework tonight? Yay!".

Another great example of verbal irony to share with your students is if someone is looking out the window at gloomy, rainy weather and they exclaim "What a beautiful day!" or, if you are always late to class but tell your friends that you are going to "surely win the school award for punctuality". These are clear examples of the intended meaning being the opposite of the usual meaning of the phrase. Students are certain to find examples of verbal irony throughout their day. An engaging introduction to irony is to have your students come up with verbal irony examples sentences as a bell ringer. They can use Storyboard That to create a visual to go along with the written example. Chances are they have already heard or said something ironic that day!

Verbal irony has been used skillfully by many writers throughout history. One of the most famous examples is Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" (1729). In this classic work of satire, Swift uses verbal irony to make the reader believe that his "modest proposal" to eradicate poverty in Ireland is a sound argument. In reality it is sickening and outrageous, but Swift achieves his goal of pointing out the callous exploitation of the poor in Ireland by the rich elites and landowners


Within the main category of verbal irony are subcategories: sarcasm, understatement, overstatement and Socratic irony; named for the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates. Socratic irony is when a character will engage in feigned ignorance while asking a question, intending to prompt the person answering to expose their own ignorance. The technique whereby a character feigns ignorance is often employed by skillful lawyers in a courtroom drama. Socrates himself used this technique or the socratic method to teach his students, stimulate critical thinking and lead them to a deeper understanding.

Situational Irony

Situational irony examples occur when the opposite of what the reader expects, happens in the story. Verbal irony refers to a character's words. However, situational irony occurs when the situation is in contrast to what is expected. Popular examples to share with students of situational irony are: if a marriage counselor got divorced, if a fire station burned down, if a police station got robbed or if you fell asleep while reading a book about insomnia! All of these are examples where you would expect one thing in the situation but the opposite happens. An easy example of situational irony in literature to point out to students is at the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up and realizes it was all a dream! Situational irony in literature provides the reader with a surprising twist and can help to deepen understanding of characters or themes. Situational irony usually shows the reader that not everything is what it seems: appearances do not always match reality.

Within the main category of situational irony are subcategories. One subcategory is cosmic irony: in which there is a supernatural element such as a higher power such as God, fate or the Universe that creates the irony in the situation. Poetic irony, also known as poetic justice, is a type of situational irony where ultimately a situation causes the righteous or virtuous character to be rewarded and their enemies punished. Historical irony is another subcategory of situational irony in which the outcome of an event is the opposite from what was intended. In this case, hindsight allows the character or reader perspective to view the historical event as ironic as its result was one that was never expected. A skilled writer will deftly weave relevant elements into their story, yielding a rich tapestry of humor and surprise that has a lasting comic effect on readers.

Classic tales that include situational irony are:


Dramatic Irony

The meaning of dramatic irony is similar to situational irony. However, with dramatic irony, the audience or reader knows something that the main or other characters do not. In the realm of Greek tragedy, dramatic irony frequently plays a central role. The fact that the reader is aware of something that the character isn't creates drama, tension and suspense as you root for the character to "figure it out." In the cases of dramatic irony, the story may turn out well in the end. A subset of dramatic irony is tragic irony. As the name implies, this is a case where all does not end well. The audience is still privy to more information than the character and are aware that the character's lack of information is what will lead to the tragic end. In many classic works of literature, the honorable man's tragic downfall due to dramatic irony serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent complexities within the human condition.

Dramatic Irony vs Situational Irony

Students can get confused about the difference between dramatic irony and situational irony. The main cue for students to look for is what does the audience know? Are we made aware of what is unfolding? Does the author intend for the reader to know that there is a contrast between what the character believes and what the reality is? If so, then it is a dramatic irony example. Similarly, if we are uncovering this contrast along with the character, as in a major plot twist that catches us off guard, then it is situational irony.

Did you know that our Picture Encyclopedia Collection has entries on dozens of literary terms - including Irony?

Irony in Literature: Classroom Applications and Uses

What is irony in literature? How to assess student understanding

  • 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.

  • Students create a storyboard about something ironic in their own life.

Teachers can customize the level of detail and number of cells required for assignments based on available class time and resources.

Irony Examples From Literary Classics

Verbal Irony in "The Cask of Amontillado"

There are many examples of verbal irony in great works of literature. A prime example of verbal irony in "The Cask of Amontillado" is when an unsuspecting Fortunato is being led to his death by his former acquaintance, Montresor. As Montresor lures him into the catacombs, he questions Fortunato about his well-being. Montresor notices Fortunato has a cough, which is growing more severe the further down the catacombs they travel. He asks if Fortunato would like to turn back. Fortunato replies, “I shall not die of a cough.” Montresor knowingly replies, “True – true.” The audience waits and finds out at the end that this was in fact use of verbal irony. Montresor appeared to mean that the cough was harmless, but what he was also saying was that he planned to kill Fortunato.

Situational Irony in Great Expectations

In Great Expectations, another great example of irony in literature, Pip and the audience both do not know who his benefactor is. Throughout the novel the reader is led to believe that the benefactor is indeed the rich Miss Havisham. Through her actions and the coincidences of Pip residing and being tutored by the Pockets, her cousins, the reader expects it to be her. Eventually, Magwich, the convict Pip showed kindness to at a young age, is revealed to be Pip's true benefactor. This revelation clashes with the expectations of Pip and the audience, generating situational irony.

Dramatic Irony in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Tragic irony, a form of dramatic irony, occurs in Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet is forced to take a sleeping potion to escape marrying Paris. She must do this because she is already married to the banished Romeo. When Romeo hears she is dead, the audience knows she is alive. He then kills himself and as Juliet wakes, she sees him dead and takes her life as well. The audience knows it all could have been prevented if the Friar's letter had gotten to Romeo, making the tale all the more tragic.

More Examples of Irony in Literature

There are many examples of irony in stories whether they be classic or modern, books or movies. Below is a storyboard of examples of irony in the popular stories, "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs, "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson.

The "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs is a classic example of using irony as a crucial literary device. Each of the wishes made by the people possessing the monkey's paw turn out to have unexpected or ironic outcomes.

Irony occurs in "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry as the reader watches Della and Jim sacrifice their most prized possessions to buy eachother the perfect gifts only to render those very gifts useless.

There are many examples of irony to unpack in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The setting alone in a dystopian world where the Gilead Republic, a totalitarian patriarchal theocracy, restricts freedom and reproductive rights making their citizens miserable all in the name of creating a "perfect society" is the ultimate irony.

The "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is a short story that was so shocking it was controversial when it was first released in 1948. The entire plot is filled with irony as the expected outcome of a lottery is to win a coveted prize. However, the result of this lottery was much more sinister.

Examples of Irony in Poetry

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a novel written in verse which offers students many examples of irony in poetry. Xiomara's mother is devoutly Christian and raises her daughter in the church. However, a religion that is based on peace is used as a weapon by her mother. The situational irony of her mother's harsh punishments and abuse contrast with the idea that Christianity is based on love and understanding. Even Xiomara's name is an example of irony within the story. Her name means "ready for battle". Xiomara says that her mother, "Gave me this gift of battle and now curses how well I live up to it". It is ironic that her name given with love by her mother is also an example of Xiomara's rebellion against her mother.

Other works of poetry that have examples of ironic situations and irony examples figures of speech are:

Related Activities

Relating to the Common Core

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)
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6: Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature
  • 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. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact

Irony Rubric for Classroom Exercises

Types of Irony Rubric
25 Points
21 Points
17 Points
Try Again
13 Points
Three Types of Irony:
  • Dramatic
  • Verbal
  • Situational
  • Student followed the task for this assignment. They included three different forms of irony, and correctly explained them.
    Student has two forms of irony displayed and correctly explained.
    Student only has two or three types displayed, but not correctly supported
    Work attempts to show irony however, it's unclear or only presents one type.
    Provides Irony Using Direct Quotes
    The student has clearly provided the reader with three different examples of irony and they are clearly explained in an exemplary way.
    Student clearly provided the reader with two examples of irony. However, the examples may not be exemplary.
    Student has identified one or two weak example of irony.
    Student has not identified irony in the story through use of direct quotations.
    Understand the Effect of Irony Through explanation
    Student has provided a clear example of the effect of all three types of irony and explained in great detail.
    Student has provided explanations of the effect of the irony for two or three examples of irony in sufficient detail.
    Student has attempted to provide an explanation of the effect of one or two example(s) of irony in limited detail.
    Student did not provide any explanations of irony from the reading.
    Overall Presentation:
  • Grammar
  • Mechanics
  • Correctness
  • Appeal
  • Student has no errors and the work is commendable.
    Student has very few errors. Good effort has been displayed.
    Student has some mechanical issues; little effort is shown; somewhat appealing; partially incomplete.
    Student has grammar, mechanic or correctness issues that prohibit the understanding of Irony; or incomplete; visually unappealing.

    How To Use Guided Reading Strategies To Support Students In Identifying And Analyzing Irony In Texts


    Pre-Reading Activities

    Before students start reading, you can introduce them to the concept of irony and its different types such as verbal, situational, and dramatic. You can use examples from literature, movies, or real-life situations to help students understand the different types of irony.


    Introduce the Text

    Provide an overview of the text and its context to students. Highlight any elements in the text that may be ironic or may lead to irony.


    Set Reading Goals

    Help students set goals for their reading. For example, they may focus on identifying instances of irony, analyzing how the irony contributes to the text's meaning, or identifying the type of irony used.


    Scaffold the Reading

    Provide support for students as they read. This may include asking questions, providing context, or modeling how to analyze irony in the text.


    Discuss the Text

    After students have finished reading, have a class discussion about the irony in the text. Encourage students to share their observations, and guide the discussion to help students analyze how the irony contributes to the text's meaning.


    Follow-Up Activities:

    Finally, you can assign follow-up activities to reinforce students' understanding of irony. For example, you can have students write about the irony in the text or identify instances of irony in other texts they read.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Irony

    What is irony?

    Irony is a rhetorical device or figure of speech in which there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, or between what happens and what is expected to happen. It often involves a contrast between appearance and reality. It adds depth and complexity to language, allowing for layers of meaning and interpretation.

    What are the three types of irony?

    The three types of irony are situational irony, verbal irony, and dramatic irony. These types can vary within literature and can all be used in one novel.

    What is verbal irony?

    Verbal irony occurs when a person says something but means the opposite. It's a form of sarcasm or a way of expressing one's ideas in a humorous or emphatic way. For example, if it's raining heavily, and someone says, "What a beautiful day!"

    What is situational irony?

    Situational irony happens when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. It involves a twist of fate or a surprising turn of events. For example, a fire station burning down is an example of situational irony.

    What is dramatic irony?

    Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader is aware of something that the characters in a story are not. It creates tension and suspense, as the audience knows more about the situation than the characters do.

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