[ ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er- ]
See synonyms for irony on
noun,plural i·ro·nies.
  1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning: the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend.

  2. Literature.

    • a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.

    • (especially in contemporary writing) a manner of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes, etc., especially as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion.

  1. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

  2. the incongruity of this.

  3. an objectively sardonic style of speech or writing.

  4. an objectively or humorously sardonic utterance, disposition, quality, etc.

Origin of irony

First recorded in 1495–1505; from Latin īrōnīa, from Greek eirōneía “dissimulation, sarcasm, understatement,” equivalent to eírōn “a dissembler” + -eia -y3

synonym study For irony

1, 2. Irony, sarcasm, satire indicate mockery of something or someone. The essential feature of irony is the indirect presentation of a contradiction between an action or expression and the context in which it occurs. In the figure of speech, emphasis is placed on the opposition between the literal and intended meaning of a statement; one thing is said and its opposite implied, as in the comment, “Beautiful weather, isn't it?” made when it is raining or nasty. Ironic literature exploits, in addition to the rhetorical figure, such devices as character development, situation, and plot to stress the paradoxical nature of reality or the contrast between an ideal and actual condition, set of circumstances, etc., frequently in such a way as to stress the absurdity present in the contradiction between substance and form. Irony differs from sarcasm in greater subtlety and wit. In sarcasm ridicule or mockery is used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously, for destructive purposes. It may be used in an indirect manner, and have the form of irony, as in “What a fine musician you turned out to be!” or it may be used in the form of a direct statement, “You couldn't play one piece correctly if you had two assistants.” The distinctive quality of sarcasm is present in the spoken word and manifested chiefly by vocal inflection, whereas satire and irony, arising originally as literary and rhetorical forms, are exhibited in the organization or structuring of either language or literary material. Satire usually implies the use of irony or sarcasm for censorious or critical purposes and is often directed at public figures or institutions, conventional behavior, political situations, etc.

Words Nearby irony

Other definitions for irony (2 of 2)

[ ahy-er-nee ]

  1. consisting of, containing, or resembling the metal iron: an irony color.

Origin of irony

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English ireni; iron + -y1 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use irony in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for irony (1 of 2)


/ (ˈaɪrənɪ) /

nounplural -nies
  1. the humorous or mildly sarcastic use of words to imply the opposite of what they normally mean

  2. an instance of this, used to draw attention to some incongruity or irrationality

  1. incongruity between what is expected to be and what actually is, or a situation or result showing such incongruity

  2. philosophy See Socratic irony

Origin of irony

C16: from Latin ironia, from Greek eirōneia, from eirōn dissembler, from eirein to speak

British Dictionary definitions for irony (2 of 2)


/ (ˈaɪənɪ) /

  1. of, resembling, or containing iron

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for irony


The use of words to mean something very different from what they appear on the surface to mean. Jonathan Swift uses irony in “A Modest Proposal” when he suggests the eating of babies as a solution to overpopulation and starvation in Ireland.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.