3 Types of Irony in Film - Verbal Irony, Dramatic Irony, Situational Irony - StudioBinder

We encounter irony every day: in our favorite movies, TV shows, and in our own lives. Most people have a general understanding of irony but there are also a lot of misconceptions about it. For example, were you aware that there are 3 different types of irony?

In this article, we’re going to define irony in all its variations. Whether you’re writing a short story or a screenplay, irony can be a powerful storytelling tool. You’ll be able to recognize the different types of irony and understand how they work. The next step is to carry this understanding straight into your next writing project.

Ironic Meaning

Irony is fundamental in storytelling

Irony is the opposite of expectation. When what we expect to happen doesn’t happen, it creates conflict

When we know the truth about a dangerous situation and we watch someone else get close to that danger, it creates suspense.

When someone says one thing but means another, it creates complexity.

All of these elements (conflict, suspense, complexity) are fundamental building blocks in storytelling. You don’t need to be an expert on irony to be a good storyteller. But it sure helps. Let’s define irony before we move on to the various types of irony.

Irony Definition

What is irony?

Irony is when the reality is opposite of what we expect. The key here is "opposite," not just different. This incongruity can be found in language (what we say vs. what we mean) or circumstances (what we expect to happen vs. what actually happens).

What are the three types of irony?

  • Dramatic irony
  • Verbal irony
  • Situational irony

Irony can be sad and tragic, or it can funny and satirical. In other words, there are limitless ways you can wield irony in your stories.

There are 3 different types of irony: dramatic, verbal, and situational. Each has a different definition and function in storytelling.

Let’s move on to some quick definitions of these main types along with a few subtypes or irony that provide even more complexity and depth to ironic storytelling.

Different Types of Irony: Dramatic

What is dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony is when we have more information about the circumstances than a character.

Ex. When you know a trap has been set and watch someone walk into it.

That is dramatic irony.

Types of Irony: Dramatic Irony example

In The Matrix, Neo and his crew are betrayed by one of their own. If we had learned of this at the moment of betrayal, we certainly would have been shocked but because we learn about it before any of the other characters, we have a nice, juicy piece of dramatic irony.

Here's the scene as it was written in the screenplay. Follow the image link to read the entire scene in StudioBinder.

Within dramatic irony, there is only one subtype: tragic irony. The difference between these two types of irony is slight but it’s an important distinction to make. Basically, tragic irony is dramatic irony with tragic consequences — it's as easy as that.

There are also distinct stages of dramatic irony, or the order of operations when deploying dramatic irony. Dramatic irony needs to be introduced, it needs to develop over time, and it needs to be released. To successfully incorporate dramatic irony, these stages are essential.

Learn more about dramatic irony →

Verbal Irony Definition

What is verbal irony?

Verbal irony is when someone says something, but means the opposite.

Ex. When you get an "F" on your term paper and say, "Wow, I did a really good job on my term paper!"

That is verbal irony.

Types of Irony: Verbal irony example

In Mean Girls, Cady's first inkling that Regina George truly is "plastic" comes in this scene. A fellow classmate approaches Cady and Regina, who gives her a glowing compliment on her skirt. But in a perfect example of verbal irony, Regina actually meant quite the opposite. 

Here's the scene as it was written in the screenplay. Follow the image link to read the entire scene in StudioBinder.

Within this verbal irony general definition, there are 4 types of verbal irony: 

Each one brings a particular element so understanding which one to use and for what purpose is essential. You can find links to each of these in navigation at the bottom of the page.

Learn more about verbal irony →

Situational Irony Definition

What is situational irony?

Situational irony is when we expect one thing, but get the opposite.

Ex. When you buy a can of Coke but it has Pepsi inside.

That is situational irony.

Types of Irony: Situational irony example

A really great example of situational irony comes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah Connor is attempting to break out of a mental institution when she encounters the same Terminator that was out to kill her in the first film.

The irony here — this time, the Terminator is there to protect her.

Here's the scene as it was written in the screenplay. Follow the image link to read the entire scene in StudioBinder.

Within this general definition, there are 4 subtypes of situational irony: 

Each one brings a particular element so understanding which one to use and for what purpose is essential. You can find links to each of these in navigation at the bottom of the page.

Learn more about situational irony →

Benefits of Using Irony

Why use irony?

Irony is born when “what seems to be” is different from “what is.” This contrast between expectation and reality is what makes irony such a rich device to use in storytelling.

Irony adds a layer of complexity and richness to the conflict. Now there is depth to your story that might not have been there before.

Writers use conflict to tell stories and irony to make better stories.

UP NEXT

Dive deeper into irony

We've covered the basics on the 3 types of irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.

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