How do we use Irony?


Irony is a literary device employed effectively by writers to keep the readers engaged in the text. Writers make use of irony to develop and convey various levels of meaning in their writings. Irony as a literary device is used frequently in poetry, literary fiction and various other texts. Through the use of irony the writer is able to convey a meaning that is quite different and even opposite of what it appears on the surface as suggested by the words used.

What is the purpose of irony?

 The use of irony involves a subtle technique where by different levels of meaning are created. An irony is better understood when there is a certain level of understanding or rapport between the writer and the readers. The reader should be in a position to discern that the writer is suggesting a far deeper meaning than the words he has used on the surface.

In its crude or basic use irony takes the form of sarcasm where in the tone or style used in most cases makes the intended meaning obvious. In most cases the words used convey the opposite of the actual meaning, like when a scathing criticism is intended for a stated compliment.

Literary irony, as opposed to the use of sarcasm, is however not so obvious and integrated in a very subtle manner by the writer through his text. In fact it may require a sensitive and well discerning reader to understand and notice the presence of irony in the text. The writers have a specific purpose when they choose to use irony in this subtle sense. Instead of engaging the reader in a direct lecture, the use of irony leaves it to the reader to explore and ponder on the various levels of meaning and arrive at an understanding hinted by the writer. The journey of exploration and sharing keeps the reader glued to the writer and his work.

How can Irony be used in a text?

  • An irony results when there is a gap between the literal words used and the actual truth. For example when a character utters something which the reader knows is not correct
  • An irony may occur because of the difference in intention and its outcome. For example when a character expects events to take place in a particular way but the reader knows that this may not really happen. This may be a case of “Dramatic irony” which is used basically in films, TV and theater.
  • An irony can operate as a result of the gap between words used and their intended meaning. For example when a character says the opposite of what he understands of a particular situation.
  • An irony takes place because of the difference between the way things appear and the actual reality. For example the character may have his own vision of interpreting a certain incident but the reader is quick to dismiss it off as inappropriate.


Irony can be use to instill a particular piece of writing with humor and wit and thus make it more interesting to the reader. In most instances the reader becomes the pivotal force behind understanding the irony used by the writer and may at times lead to misunderstanding and confusion in the mind of the readers.


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