Irony vs. Sarcasm: What's in a Word?

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Difference between Irony and Sarcasm

Have you ever confused the terms irony and sarcasm? After all, it is easy to interchange the two when their definitions are so similar. Let’s say someone comes to a party wearing something really awful and you can’t help but be a bit sarcastic and say, "Nice outfit". However, saying nice to describe something hideous is ironic. Sarcasm and irony are related, because sarcasm is actually a form of irony. Both have been used in literature and speech, as well as daily conversations to add humor, sugar coat insults and add rhetoric hints in communication. Read on below for further explanation of their definition, usage and examples in popular literature.



Irony is defined as the use of certain words to express a meaning which is completely the opposite of the situation. Irony is said for the purpose of expressing a reaction which is not meant to hurt another person. Irony has four different types namely the Verbal Irony, the Socratic Irony, the Tragic Irony and the Situational Irony. Sarcasm on the other hand is the employment of words which are meant to hurt and damage the character of a person. Sarcasm is a bitter, cutting and sharp remark or expression; a bitter sneer or taunt.


Irony has different uses. First, there is the verbal irony wherein the person uses the complete opposite words of a situation to convey what he feels. The Socratic irony is where a person pretends to have no knowledge of a certain topic and makes them explain it to another party in hopes of exposing the weakness of the latter. Another use of irony is in movies, which is an example of tragic irony. Here, the main character acts or says something which will be in contrast to the situation in the play, unknown to him but known to other characters and the viewers. Sarcasm on the other hand is basically used verbally to insult or hurt the person the sarcasm is referred to.

Changes in Tone

With irony, the speaker just speaks his feelings which are the reverse meaning of the real situation, but does not involve or indicate something that would suggest a certain disapproval or disgust in the situation. Sarcasm on the other hand is characterized not only by the hurtful words which are intended to cut deep into human emotions, but also by the change in the voice’s tone. Oftentimes, sarcastic remarks are delivered in a low pitch and spoken in a tone coming out of the nose.


  • Irony involves the expression of a word or phrase which is completely the opposite of the real situation, which is more, likely similar to sarcasm.
  • Irony does not have the intention of hurting a person with its words while sarcasm does.
  • Irony is used in many forms of literature and everyday life like in everyday conversations, debates and plays.
  • Sarcasm is mainly used to mock and insult people with hurtful words that are exactly the opposite of the situation.


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