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12 Examples of Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is language that is deliberately contrary to expectations. In its simplest form, verbal irony is a statement with a surface meaning and an underlying meaning that are not the same. This is commonly used as a literary or rhetorical device to make language colorful, funny or witty. The following are illustrative examples of verbal irony.


Sarcasm is an insincere statement intended to provoke. Verbal irony is one of the primary ways to be sarcastic but not all irony is sarcastic nor is all sarcasm ironic.
I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.
~ Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Double Audience

Verbal irony can be viewed as addressing a double audience, one that understands a statement literally and the other that gets the irony. This can build rapport with the audience as you share a secret meaning together.
A little more than kin, and less than kind.
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet [Hamlet is speaking of his uncle who had killed Hamlet's father, as such "less than kind" is appears as an ironic understatement to those who know the story.]

Inside Joke

A joke that requires inside information to understand. This can be used to bond with people as it highlights your commonalities. Some inside jokes make use of irony to create a double meaning with one being humorous.
How does a computer scientist order three beers? They hold up two fingers.


A simple form of verbal irony is an overstatement, also known as exaggeration, that isn't meant to be taken literally.
If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you'll die a lot of times.
~ Dean Smith


A hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration designed to be obvious. Technically, they can be considered ironic. However, they are so obvious that they aren't strongly ironic.
He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.
~ Stephen Leacock


An understatement is a statement that is less dramatic than expected for the situation. This tends to be ironic.
Without question, his picture did not do him justice, but again, he was dead when it was taken.
~ Loren D. Estleman, The Branch and the Scaffold


A metaphor can be used to create verbal irony. A metaphor is a comparison between two things that conveys meaning. If the meaning is an overstatement, understatement or can be interpreted in multiple ways it can be ironic.
Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.
~ Truman Capote


A metaphor that is weakened with a connecting phase such as "like" or "as a." Similes are occasionally ironic.
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
~ Jonathan Swift


An idea that is self-refuting or otherwise paradoxical is ironic.
If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
~ George Carlin


Humor is the lighthearted treatment of the absurd and the dark. Irony is a potent type of humor.
I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.
~ Steven Wright


Satire is humor that acts as political or social commentary. It often takes the form of verbal irony designed to highlight a dark or absurd social or political situation or tendency.
There's an old saying about those who forget history. I don't remember it, but it's good.
~ Stephen Colbert

Dry Wit

Dry wit is humor that is delivered as if it were serious. This is often ironic as it generates a double audience, those who understand the statement as humor and those who do not.
The universe is a million billion light-years wide, and every inch of it would kill you if you went there. This is the position of the universe with regards to human life.
~ Martin Amis
Overview: Verbal Irony
Definition (1)
Language that is deliberately contrary to reasonable expectations that is used to create colorful, witty and humorous effects.
Definition (2)
Language that has a surface meaning and an underlying meaning that are not the same.
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Literary Device

This is the complete list of articles we have written about literary device.
Artistic License
Direct Language
Figurative Language
Rhetorical Device
Verbal Irony
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