Ironic Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

This guide will show you the meaning of the word ironic, its origin, how it’s used, synonyms, examples, and more. Click here for more.

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Ironic isn’t just an Alanis Morisette song, but the Canadian-American musician can take a lot of credit for making it a famous word. The word fittingly describes some circumstances and situations. However, if you don’t know what it means, you may not be using it the right way or feel confident using it at all. 

Let’s explore its meaning, where it comes from, and how you can use it correctly.

What Does the Word Ironic Mean?

Ironic, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, has a few definitions. In all definitions of the word, it is an adjective.

Here are the various ways to use ironic as an adjective:

  • Ironic can describe using words to mean the opposite of their literal meaning. 
  • Ironic can mean relating to or tending toward the use of irony or mockery.
  • Ironic can mean that something is coincidental or unexpected.


  • That was an ironic remark.
  • It’s ironic that I would be paired with her just after our big fight.

To further understand the meaning of the word ironic, it’s important to look at the meaning of the wordy irony. Irony is a noun that means either the use of words that imply an opposite meaning from their literal meaning or an outcome that is different from what was, what might have been, or what was expected.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term irony means the incongruity of a situation or occurrence. However, when something is merely incongruous it is just not in harmony with the surroundings. With irony, the incongruity typically also reveals human folly or human vanity. This additional depth of meaning causes many people to use the word ironic incorrectly.

What Is the Origin of Ironic?

Ironic, as we use it today, is from the mid 17th century. It has roots in the English word irony and  French ironique. Both can be traced back to the late Latin ironicus. Ironicus comes from the Greek eirōnikos. 

Eironikos comes from the Greek eirōneia, and it meant dissembling or feigning ignorance.

How Is Irony Used in Literature?

Irony can be used as a literary technique where an author has a character do or say something that you did not expect them to do or say. In literature, you’ll find three types of irony that are most commonly used:

  • Verbal irony
  • Dramatic irony
  • Situational irony

In order to improve our understanding of them, let’s look at each of them individually.

Verbal Irony 

This irony happens when a speaker says something that means the opposite of their intentions. Lemony Snicket is masterful with the art of verbal irony. Often, statements from his works will start off leading you in one direction and take an ironic twist to give an entirely different context to the words, and his works are full of examples of verbal irony.

Verbal irony requires the reader to pay attention to other aspects of the story to understand the true meaning of what a character is saying. For example, at face value, a character could sound quite concerned for the well-being of someone, but with the right context, the reader can see the verbal irony in the malice of the speaker’s words through a greater understanding of their intention. 

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony in literature is when a character doesn’t have information that is crucial to the plot of their own story. As a reader, you are often aware of the missing piece of information when the character is not, and this adds to the tension and suspense of the piece. 

Situational Irony

Situational irony occurs when the actions of a character have an intended or anticipated result and have the opposite result instead. As with other forms of literary irony, the effect adds depth to the art of storytelling and enhances the reader’s experience.

In the short story “The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allan Poe employs all three kinds of irony in the madness of Montresor and the ironic fate of a man named Fortunato. Particular lessons can be gained for each type of irony from this single short story.

How Else Do You Use the Word Ironic?

In speech and in various situations in life, irony is used as a rhetorical device to encourage a different perspective than the situation or the words would literally suggest. This can be done through sarcasm, simile usage, and litotes.

When an ironic statement is said using sarcasm, the inflection of the speaker has notes of bitterness and derision. This makes it difficult to read sarcastic statements, and the irony can get lost. In person, with a dry delivery, a person’s facial expression may be the only indication that a statement was meant to be ironic.

Because of the confusion surrounding the meaning of the word ironic, people often refer to a mere coincidence, curiosity, paradox, or oddity as ironic. It takes a clear thinker to understand the poignant difference between a coincidence and an ironic event.

What Are the Synonyms of Ironic?

Synonyms are how we can describe the same meaning of a word using different words. Here are some examples of synonyms for the word ironic:

  • Acerbic
  • Acid
  • Bitter
  • Caustic
  • Cynical
  • Dry
  • Mocking
  • Mordant
  • Sarcastic
  • Sardonic
  • Satirical
  • Scathing
  • Scoffing
  • Sharp
  • Stinging

What Are the Antonyms of Ironic?

Antonyms convey the opposite meaning of a word. Here are some of the antonyms you can use to describe something that is the opposite of ironic:

  • Cordial
  • Deep
  • Earnest
  • Fervent
  • Genuine
  • Heartfelt
  • Honest
  • Profound
  • Real
  • Sincere
  • True
  • Unfeigned

Examples of Ironic

Examples help us see how to correctly use a word in a sentence. This is helpful when you want to use the word in conversation at a later time because you’ll know how it flows in a sentence. 

Here are a few example sentences of how to use the word ironic in a sentence:

  • It was ironic that the cheering came from the fans of the team that had not won the game.
  • His ironic smile never reached his eyes, and she found it quite unsettling.
  • In an ironic twist of fate, the device he created to save lives was what cost him his own.
  • It was ironic that the robber’s car was found outside the police station.
  • The foreign commentator found the American policy to be chock-full of ironic statements.

The Last Word

Now that you know what the word ironic means, you will understand how to use it correctly and what it means when others use it in a sentence. The examples will help you use it with more confidence when it applies to situations in your life, and with the synonyms, you can articulate the idea of irony in different ways.


  1. IRONIC | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary 
  2. Irony | American Heritage Dictionary Entry 
  3. What is Irony? | Definition & Examples | Oregon State University