ironic

adjective

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-
1
: relating to, containing, or constituting irony
an ironic remark
an ironic coincidence
2
: given to irony
an ironic sense of humor
ironicalness
ˌī-ˈrä-ni-kəl-nəs How to pronounce ironic (audio)
 also  i-ˈrä-
noun

Did you know?

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

Example Sentences

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 Their narrative is an adventure story and a page turner, with a voice that’s intimate, ironic, interesting, and, at times, deeply sad. Erin Douglass, The Christian Science Monitor, 13 Feb. 2023 His final remarks included an ironic, though highly likely unplanned reference to the program’s former coach as well. James Crepea | The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, 5 May 2022 The answer, at least to hear his high school coach Preston Jones tell it, is all about experience, which is ironic considering Purdy is going into just his eighth game as an NFL starter. Greg Moore, The Arizona Republic, 27 Jan. 2023 One of the always hot topics at Davos is climate change (which is ironic given how many private jets are flown in for the week), and this year’s conference is no different. Q.ai - Powering A Personal Wealth Movement, Forbes, 23 Jan. 2023 Everyone says Basel is a marathon, not a sprint, which is ironic considering there are 282 premier galleries featured in this year's convention center and hundreds of events happening in the span of days. Tara Gonzalez, Harper's BAZAAR, 2 Dec. 2022 In an ironic reversal of what’s happening in Virginia, prosecutors in Broward are trying to convince the jury that Nikolas Cruz is not mentally incapacitated. Brittany Wallman, Sun Sentinel, 5 Oct. 2022 The film is littered with such ironic reversals, and with decent intentions that lurch into disarray. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 26 Aug. 2022 The barriers the West is erecting are an ironic reversal of history. Alex Garcia, WSJ, 17 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ironic. Accessed 25 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition

ironic

adjective
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
ironically
-i-k(ə-)lē
adverb
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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