situational irony

[ sich-oo-ey-shuh-nl ahy-ruh-nee, ahyer- ]


  1. irony involving a situation in which actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended, so that the outcome is contrary to what was expected.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of situational irony1

First recorded in 1960–65

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Compare Meanings

How does situational irony compare to similar and commonly confused words? Explore the most common comparisons:


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More About Situational Irony

What is situational irony?

Situational irony is when the outcome is the opposite or completely different from what was expected.

Situational irony involves the result of a situation not matching with your expectations, such as a baker being allergic to flour. You would not expect a person who is allergic to flour to take a job that involves a lot of flour.

Two other forms of irony are verbal irony and dramatic irony. In verbal irony, a person uses words that mean one thing but imply that the reality is different, such as a person saying, “Great weather today!” when it is raining. In dramatic irony, the audience knows something that the characters in the story don’t. Dramatic irony is a situation in which the audience or reader has a better understanding of events than the characters in a story do.

Why is situational irony important?

The phrase situational irony has been used since at least 1912. This literary device is much older, however, and was used by writers such as William Shakespeare and Sophocles. The phrase combines the word situational, which describes something that is related to a situation or a set of circumstances, and the infamously confusing word irony, which is used to indicate that expectations or attitudes do not match reality.

A famous example of situational irony is the 1905 story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. In the story, a husband sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair and the wife sells her hair to buy a chain for her husband’s pocket watch. In a case of situational irony, the couple’s actions have resulted in unexpected outcomes as both gifts have become useless.

In a more recent example, the 1999 film The Sixth Sense tells the story of a man trying to help a child who is able to see ghosts. The situational irony of the film is that the man himself is a ghost and the child ends up helping him, completely reversing the man’s expectations.

Did you know … ?

Situational irony is used in many different forms of writing, including novels, short stories, plays, and movie scripts. It is often used to set up a twist or surprise for the audience.

What are real-life examples of situational irony?

This video explains situational irony and gives one example of how it can sometimes be based on expectations that come out of stereotyping.

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Like most forms of irony, people often get confused about what is and isn’t situational irony.


What other words are related to situational irony?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

A police station being robbed is an example of situational irony.




situationsituation comedy