Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Irony and Sarcasm

ironyIrony vs Sarcasm

Irony and sarcasm are often confused, which is understandable. In some cases, they are interchangeable. This is because sarcasm is a kind of irony, so all instances of sarcasm are irony, but not all instances of irony are sarcasm.

Irony is when something appears to be or is said to be one way, but is actually another. This is often used for drama or for comedy. There are three kinds of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic.

Dramatic irony is when someone knows that the situation is not what it appears to be, but another person is unaware.

Let’s say that you have a friend who wants to date another person and thinks that the other person has communicated intent to date them back. However, you know that the person they want to date is engaged to be married to another person. That would be dramatic irony for you, since you know that the situation is likely the opposite of what it appears to be.

This is often used in stories, since it can add suspense or another layer of meaning to the story. For example, if the hero is about to happily go through a hallway to meet his lover, but in an earlier part of the story, another character showed that the hallway is trapped, and it is very likely that the hero will die if he continues. In another case, there could have been a prophecy stating that the protagonist will kill another character, who happens to be the villain. If the villain uses this prophecy to try to kill the protagonist, who kills the villain in self-defense without knowing about the prophecy, then this would be a form of dramatic irony.

Situational irony is when you are led to believe one thing, but it turns out that the opposite is true.

For example, cats are known for eating mice. If a cat started cuddling up with a mouse and grooming it, then that would be situational irony, because that’s not what you thought a cat would do. Similarly, if you were given a picture and you were told that it featured a cat eating a mouse, you might think of the cat eating a rodent. However, the picture shows a cat chewing on a computer mouse instead.

Again, there are a lot of instances where this is used in literature. For example, there is the red herring, where the characters – and the reader – are led to believe one thing in order to add some suspense, but it turns out to be false. The classic example is a detective deciding that one suspect is responsible for the crime, but that suspect turns out to be innocent. Ironically, the red herring has been used so often that some people are able to guess which suspect is a red herring and deduce the real suspect just from that.

And then we come to verbal irony. It is when someone says something, but they mean something different.
“Great, my dress is ruined. That’s just what I always wanted.”
“It’s time to spend ten hours watching paint dry. I can’t wait.”

In both cases, the speakers are using verbal irony to communicate their displeasure.

Sarcasm is when someone uses verbal irony with the intent to insult or ridicule. For example, if someone arrives to a location with their hair in a mess, saying “Oh, I love what you did with your hair!” would be sarcasm because it’s calling attention to how bad the hair is.

It can also be used to mock an idea.
Obviously the shark could have stolen your car. Sharks are well-known for their driving prowess.

So, while irony can cover situations, knowledge, and speech, sarcasm is only a form of ironic speech, and it is only used to insult or ridicule while irony can also be used for suspense or comedy.

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  1. very informative. thank you!

  2. I find it ironic that the poster of this article has no freakin clue of what the difference between irony and sarcasm is.

    • I was just thinking the same thing!

    • Hilariously well said! Rofl

    • Same here! Did Alanis Morissette write this?

      I was directed here from the “difference between sarcastic vs. sardonic” page. Apparently the post-er doesn’t know what those words mean, either. Even the etymologies are incorrect. See the Oxford or Cambridge dictionaries for more accurate depictions.

      • Also, the grammar and usage in these articles is atrocious; as well as the personal interjections within the context of an academic -supposedly objective- definition. For example:

        “Remember always, that sarcasm is nasty and not very good, especially if that sarcasm is directed towards you. Even if you are not the intended victim ,it is still not funny to use sarcasm, unless of course the situation really calls for it.”

        …although my favorite is the bad commas. Unless, of course, the situation REALLY calls for it. (And that, my friends, is sarcasm!)

        BTW, all sarcasm IS irony. Not all irony is sarcasm. You’d think the author would have led with that, or at least included that important descriptor.

  3. I enjoyed reading this article.

  4. now noone knows who’s being ironic and who’s not! maybe we could append our written comments with something that indicates irony? i know this sounds crazy, but you could use standard typographical elements to “paint” something visual! if i combine a semicolon and a close-parentheses, for example, it would look like this:
    if you turn the screen on it’s side it looks like the face of someone winking and smiling wryly, which is a commonly accepted facial admission of irony. with this, the preceding comment acquires the necessary semantic dimension to enable the reader to discern a serious from an ironic statement. i call my invention a “winkie”. other facial expressions denoting other affective dispositions, or even pictograms representing whole objects or situations, could be built!


  5. Jesus was ironic.

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