Irony is everywhere, both in art and in real life. Ironically, this can make it all the harder to spot. As one of the most misunderstood rhetorical devices, irony can remain elusive for even the most skilled artists and hawk-eyed audience members. In this article, we’ll lay out some of the best irony examples and explain what makes them work, and what makes them ironic.

Definition and examples of irony

First, let’s define irony

Before we jump into the deep end, let’s make sure we understand what irony actually is. The term refers to something that appears one way but is actually something totally different.

In verbal irony, this is when someone says something but means the opposite. Say it’s pouring rain and freezing cold and you say, “What a beautiful day.” You’re using irony.

Dramatic irony, meanwhile, is when the audience knows something a character doesn’t. We see a scene where the villain outlines their grand plan, and then watch a scene where a protagonist obliviously falls into the villain’s trap.

Finally, there is situational irony. This is where the opposite of what we think would happen happens. An esteemed hair stylist gets a terrible haircut, for example.

There are other subcategories of irony— like socratic irony, where a person feigns ignorance to get someone to admit something— but for our purposes, we’ll focus on the three primary categories.

Irony examples sentences

Verbal irony examples

With our definitions out of the way, let’s delve into some examples. We’ll start with arguably the most easily identifiable form of irony: verbal.

Beauty and the Beast

In Beauty and the Beast, there’s a great bit of verbal irony when Belle rebuffs Gaston’s marriage proposal. Watch it here:

Beauty and the Beast

Belle tells Gaston, “I really don’t deserve you,” when it’s clear that she is being ironic– she is not actually saying that she isn’t good enough for the gloating buffoon.

The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield is famously cynical and jaded, so it should come as no surprise that he makes heavy use of verbal irony. At one point, Caulfield claims, “I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.”

A tumor on the brain is by no means not serious, and Caulfield knows this.


In Frozen, we see a use of verbal irony in just one word. Olaf runs out of the woods chased by a massive, scary creature and says the following:

Irony examples in movies

“Marshmallow” is the opposite of how you would describe the beast behind Olaf. He’s using verbal irony when assigning that nickname.

Game of Thrones

In the HBO blockbuster series, Tyrion is a witty and sarcastic character who almost always has the last laugh. Many of his jokes rely on verbal irony, like with this line:

Ironic statements examples

Tyrion is a lot of things, but he is not a truth-teller. He knows it, and he knows the woman he’s with knows it. So saying he’s crushed by the truth is a deft use of verbal irony. 

Ironic examples in storytelling

Dramatic irony examples

Dramatic irony is an extremely powerful tool in storytelling. It can escalate suspense or craft a hilarious moment of misunderstanding. Here are a few examples:


Alfred Hitchcock loved dramatic irony. Most of his best work utilized the tool to create tension like no other filmmaker could. Perhaps his best use of dramatic irony is in Psycho

After Norman Bates kills Marion Crane, we watch in horror as unassuming character after unassuming character roams up to his motel looking for her. We know that Bates is a serial killer, while these poor souls do not.

Dramatic irony example in Psycho

Romeo and Juliet

Perhaps the most famous piece of dramatic irony ever is the ending of Romeo and Juliet. We know Juliet is not dead, but Romeo does not. This makes his actions even more tragic, since the audience knows it is so avoidable.

Poor Truman is a victim of dramatic irony

The Truman Show shows us the power of dramatic irony in a more comedic context. Truman doesn’t know that his entire life is staged for television. But the audience does, and we’re on the edge of our seats to see how his eventual discovery will affect him.

Situational irony examples in literature

Situational irony examples

Last but not least, let’s check out some examples of situational irony. This form of the literary device can occur on a larger plot-level, or be a quick joke or surprise.


Aladdin actually has several uses of different kinds of irony, and employs situational irony to great effect. Aladdin uses his first wish from the Genie to become a prince in the hopes to impress Jasmine.

Aladdin situational irony

But in a turn of situational irony, Aladdin’s plan backfires. Jasmine is less interested in him because she thinks he’s a showy and braggadocious prince.

Animal Farm

George Orwell’s cautionary tale relies on situational irony. The animals work to free themselves from the humans above them.

They succeed, but end up under the rule of the pigs, who are arguably even worse. It’s classic situational irony– their struggle for freedom results in only more oppression, the opposite outcome they were expecting.

American Psycho

American Psycho is a razor sharp satire, and utilizes situational irony as a final twist of the knife. Patrick Bateman spends much of the latter half of the movie trying to avoid getting caught for his crimes, only to find that when he confesses, no one cares.

Situational irony example in American Psycho

This irony hammers home the message of the movie: Bateman is a feature, not a flaw, of the system. Society is built to let guys like him, with no moral conscience, succeed.

Incorrect irony examples

What irony is not

Before we go, let’s take a look at some examples that may be thought of as ironic, but are in fact something else.

“No fighting in the war room,” Dr. Strangelove

One of the most famous jokes from Stanley Kubrick’s comedy is often mislabeled as ironic. Take a look at the scene in question:

No fighting in the war room

While the line “there’s no fighting in the war room” is funny, it isn’t actually ironic. First, it’s not verbal irony because the character means what he says– he wants the fighting to cease. It’s not dramatic irony because the audience doesn’t know something the characters don’t.

The closest argument is that it is situational irony, but the problem here is that one wouldn’t actually expect for there to be fighting in a war room. The joke lies in juxtaposition: “no fighting” and “war.”

“Ironic,” Alanis Morissette

We wouldn’t blame you for thinking a song called “Ironic” would be laden with irony. But with closer inspection of the lyrics, the narrator is describing situations that aren’t actually ironic.

Isn’t it ironic? No.

“Rain on your wedding day”? Bad luck, but not ironic. “Free Ride when you’ve already paid”? Same case. “Good advice that you just didn’t take”? Bad decision, not ironic.

That’s not to say that everything in the song is mislabeled. In the second verse, Morissette describes a man in a plane crash who thinks, “Well, isn’t this nice?” That is verbal irony.

The Sixth Sense

Some people think that the plot twist (spoiler alert) in The Sixth Sense is a case of situational irony, because it’s not expected. But the twist isn’t the opposite of what Malcolm’s actions have been working toward.

It would be one thing if Malcolm is trying to rid the whole world of ghosts and that in turn makes him a ghost. But that’s not the case. As such, The Sixth Sense has a great twist, but not an ironic one.

Up Next

What is cosmic irony?

Like we said, we’re only scratching the surface of different types of irony. While verbal, dramatic, and situational are the most commonly cited forms of the rhetorical device, there are many more. Dig into one particularly interesting one: cosmic irony.

Up Next: Cosmic irony →
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