iron·​ic ˌī-ˈrä-nik How to pronounce ironic (audio)
 also  i-ˈrä-
variants or less commonly ironical
ˌī-ˈrä-ni-kəl How to pronounce ironic (audio)
 also  i-ˈrä-
: relating to, containing, or constituting irony
an ironic remark
an ironic coincidence
: given to irony
an ironic sense of humor
ˌī-ˈrä-ni-kəl-nəs How to pronounce ironic (audio)
 also  i-ˈrä-

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What's irony?

Considerable thought is given to what events constitute “true” irony, and the dictionary is often called upon to supply an answer. Here are the facts about how the word irony is used.

Irony has two formal uses that are not as common in general prose as its more casual uses. One refers to Socratic irony—a method of revealing an opponent’s ignorance by pretending to be ignorant yourself and asking probing questions. The other refers to dramatic irony or tragic irony—an incongruity between the situation in a drama and the words used by the characters that only the audience can see. Socratic irony is a tool used in debating; dramatic irony is what happens when the audience realizes that Romeo and Juliet’s plans will go awry.

The third, and debated, use of irony regards what’s called situational irony. Situational irony involves a striking reversal of what is expected or intended: a person sidesteps a pothole to avoid injury and in doing so steps into another pothole and injures themselves. Critics claim the words irony and ironic as they are used in cases lacking a striking reversal, such as “Isn’t it ironic that you called just as I was planning to call you?,” are more properly called coincidence.

The historical record shows that irony and ironic have been used imprecisely for almost 100 years at least, and often to refer to coincidence. This 1939 quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald is typical: "It is an ironic thought that the last picture job I took—against my better judgment—yielded me five thousand dollars five hundred and cost over four thousand in medical attention." Is this true situational irony? It’s debatable.

The word irony has come to be applied to events that are merely curious or coincidental, and while some feel this is an incorrect use of the word, it is merely a new one.

Choose the Right Synonym for ironic

sarcastic, satiric, ironic, sardonic mean marked by bitterness and a power or will to cut or sting.

sarcastic implies an intentional inflicting of pain by deriding, taunting, or ridiculing.

a critic known for his sarcastic remarks

satiric implies that the intent of the ridiculing is censure and reprobation.

a satiric look at contemporary society

ironic implies an attempt to be amusing or provocative by saying usually the opposite of what is meant.

made the ironic observation that the government could always be trusted

sardonic implies scorn, mockery, or derision that is manifested by either verbal or facial expression.

surveyed the scene with a sardonic smile

Examples of ironic in a Sentence

She has an ironic sense of humor. It's ironic that computers break down so often, since they're meant to save people time. It is ironic that the robber's car crashed into a police station.
Recent Examples on the Web What’s ironic is Endeavor’s key financial metrics are sound. Tyler Aquilina, Variety, 29 Nov. 2023 How strange and, in the end, how ironic that a German singing group, founded in the chaotic last years of the Weimar Republic and forcibly disbanded less than 10 years later, should call itself the Comedian Harmonists. Jesse Green, New York Times, 13 Nov. 2023 Camp is an aesthetic of passionate and highly articulated exaggeration, an aesthetic that transforms the tacky, brash, and ironic into splendor through sheer fearless commitment. Gabriel N. Rosenberg, The New Republic, 3 Nov. 2023 Throughout the film, the director plays the audience like an accordion, pushing buttons and pulling and squeezing us into feeling things — disgust, ironic laughter, confusion, voyeuristic guilt, genuine curiosity — like a master. Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2023 Zaslav’s suggestion that writers might now be overpaid will likely strike some detractors as ironic given that the executive reportedly earned $246 million in compensation in 2021. James Hibberd, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 Nov. 2023 Isn’t ironic, don’tcha think (sorry, Alanis), since we were supposed to be the cynical and disaffected generation. Michael Schneider, Variety, 11 Nov. 2023 Which is ironic considering there’s no library in this school. Hazlitt, 8 Nov. 2023 The Burr persona is angry, ironic and, quite often, hilarious. John Anderson, WSJ, 19 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ironic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1576, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ironic was in 1576

Dictionary Entries Near ironic

Cite this Entry

“Ironic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


iron·​ic ˈī-ˈrän-ik How to pronounce ironic (audio)
variants also ironical
: relating to, containing, or being irony
an ironic turn of events
an ironic laugh
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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