Verbal Irony Definition and Useful Examples in Conversation & Literature

What is verbal irony? There are many different types of irony which you may come across during English conversation and in written language. One of those types of irony is verbal irony. But what is this and how does it work? In this article, we are going to look at the meaning of verbal irony and how it can be used. We will also take a look at some examples of verbal irony being used both in a written context such as poetry, songs and fiction as well as some examples of it being used in a more conversational tone.

Verbal Irony

Verbal Irony Definition

What is verbal irony?

When someone uses a phrase that is verbal irony, they are expressing a meaning which is contrary to the actual reality. They may say something which is the complete opposite of what is meant. For example, if it is raining outside, you might hear someone say ‘what lovely weather we are having at the moment.’ The use of verbal irony is usually for a sarcastic purpose.

Verbal irony is sometimes used as figurative language, this means that it is used to talk about something in the non-literal sense, for example, you may have heard someone use the term ‘it is as clear as mud’ which means that something is not at all clear. This is verbal irony being used as figurative language.

Verbal Irony Examples

Examples of Verbal Irony in Conversation

There are many instances in which you are likely to hear verbal irony being used in regular, day to day conversations. It is a common form of the figure of speech. Here are some examples of different things that might be heard using verbal irony.

  • Perfect. This day could not get any better.” is verbal irony which would be used when things keep going consistently wrong during the course of one day.
  • If someone were to ask if you minded them cutting in line after you have been waiting a long time, you might say “Of course I don’t mind, why on earth would I?” This implies that you do mind but are using verbal irony to say the opposite thing.
  • Oh well that is just brilliant.” is a form of verbal irony that might be used when something bad happens.
  • Goodness me, it’s cold outside.” You might hear this being used as verbal irony when the weather outside it particularly warm.
  • If someone were to suggest something which made no sense at all, you could use verbal irony by saying something like “Oh what a wonderful idea.
  • What a huge house,” exclaimed John when he saw how small his new home was.
  • If a child has a messy bedroom, it’s mother might use verbal irony in saying something like “wow, what a clean room you have. You could win an award for how tidy this is.”
  • If someone has missed the bus which they usually take to work, they might use verbal irony to express their feelings by saying something along the lines of “Great, I am going to be right on time for work this morning.”
  • What a cute little puppy.” would be said in a verbally ironic tone when seeing a mangy, unkempt looking dog.
  • If someone has just had a new hairstyle which looks absolutely awful, someone might use verbal irony to express this by saying something such as, “what a lovely new hairstyle you have there.”
  • When telling someone that you did not enjoy something, you might use verbal irony by using the phrase “I enjoyed that as much as I enjoy having teeth pulled.
  • My new boss is as friendly as a rattlesnake.” this is a form of verbal irony as it uses an example of friendliness which is not true.
  • Someone who has no money at all hears a person say that they only have fifty pounds until they get paid the next day, the person with no money might use verbal irony by saying “Oh no, it is the end of the world!

Examples of Verbal Irony in Literature

There may be times where a writer decides to use verbal irony within their written work. Here are some examples to show the time when verbal irony has been used in this way.

  • In the motion picture of the musical, Annie, the children use the phrase “we love you Mrs Hannigans.” as verbal irony, since in reality they actually dislike her very much.
  • In the play, Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare, verbal irony is used to talk about a character who committed murder by repeatedly calling him “an honourable man.”
  • In the script for Doctor Strangelove, we see the line “you cannot fight in here for this is the room of war.” this is verbal irony as the statement directly contradicts itself.
  • In the book Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, we see the line “Yes, Quirrel was a wonderful teacher, it was just a shame that he had Voldemort protruding from his head.”
  • The book, Lemony Snicket features verbal irony when we read the line; “Today was a bitter and cold day, it was as bitter and cold as a steaming cup of hot chocolate.” Again, the idea here completely contradicts reality.
  • In Pygmalion written by George Orwell, we see verbal irony used when a character says “Swear! Never do I swear. What the devil are you talking about?” the character claims to detest swearing but the uses the word devil as a swear.
  • In the TV series M*A*S*H, we see verbal irony used in the script, when we see the line; “I am not scared, I am too horrified to be scared.” the character is denying being scared, even though he means the total opposite.


We have learnt that verbal irony is used to display a sarcastic tone during a conversation or written piece of work. When a person expresses verbal irony, they are saying something which is the direct opposite of the truth in order to make light of the situation or show sarcasm.

Verbal irony can be seen very commonly during day-to-day conversations in English and is often found in the literature for added effect.

Verbal Irony Infographic

Verbal Irony Definition and Useful Examples in Conversation & LiteraturePin

Verbal Irony Definition and Useful Examples in Conversation & LiteraturePin