adjective iron·ic \ ˌī-ˈrä-nik also i-ˈrä- \
variants: or less commonly ironical play \ˌī-ˈrä-ni-kəl also i-ˈrä-\
|Updated on: 5 Aug 2018

Definition of ironic

1 : relating to, containing, or constituting irony
  • an ironic remark
  • an ironic coincidence
2 : given to irony
  • an ironic sense of humor


play \ˌī-ˈrä-ni-kəl-nəs also i-ˈrä-\ noun

Examples of ironic in a Sentence

  1. She has an ironic sense of humor.

  2. It's ironic that computers break down so often, since they're meant to save people time.

  3. It is ironic that the robber's car crashed into a police station.

Recent Examples of ironic from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ironic.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 word irony and ironic as they are generally used (as in, “Isn’t it ironic that you called just as I was planning to call you?”) can only apply to situational irony, and uses like the one above 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.

First Known Use of ironic


in the meaning defined at sense 1

See Words from the same year
NEW! Time Traveler

Synonym Discussion of 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

IRONIC Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of ironic for English Language Learners

  • : using words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny

  • : strange or funny because something (such as a situation) is different from what you expected

IRONIC Defined for Kids


adjective iron·ic \ ī-ˈrä-nik \
variants: also ironical \-ni-kəl\

Definition of ironic for Students

: relating to, containing, or showing irony
  • It was ironic that the robber's car crashed into the police station.


\-i-kə-lē\ adverb

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up ironic? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


very hard to disturb or upset

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet-pasta-spelling-help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!