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Situational Irony

If you’ve paid attention to your English teacher, you might have heard the word: Irony. Irony is when something appears to be different from what is reasonably expected. Examples of irony are present in books, plays, TV shows and movies, even songs!

One type of irony is Situational Irony. But what does it mean? Situational Irony refers to situations where something unexpected happens. You must have seen it happen in Mystery Movies!

As you’re watching, you think you know who the murderer is. But when the actual killer gets revealed, it’s someone you never imagined! This is an example of Situational Irony.

Situational Irony Definition

Sometimes, the outcome of an event is different from what would normally occur. It might even be the complete opposite of what people suppose will happen. This is called Situational Irony.

Suppose you go to a dentist to get your teeth looked at. But it turns out the dentist is on leave because he is suffering from tooth decay! A dentist having problems with his teeth is an ironic situation.

Situational Irony does not have to take place in the real world. It can be used by writers in stories also. Authors put their characters in ironic situations to make the plot of their novel funny or interesting.

Three Main Types of Irony

Along with Situational Irony, there are two other forms of irony: Verbal and Dramatic Irony. Verbal Irony is when someone says one thing, but means something else. If it starts raining heavily outside, and you say “What a sunny day!” – that is an example of Verbal Irony.

In Verbal Irony, the speaker wants other people to know they don’t mean what they’re saying. A common form is sarcasm – when someone uses Verbal Irony to mock people. Like if a person falls while walking and someone sarcastically says, “You have great balance!”, to make fun of them.

Dramatic Irony is when a story tells the reader something that the characters have no idea about. Authors use it to create suspense in their stories. In this case, the audience knows more than the characters.

We can take the example of the movie ‘Titanic’ to understand this further. In the movie, everyone thinks that the Titanic is an unsinkable ship. But the ship hits an iceberg in the ocean and sinks! This is Situational Irony.

But when you see the Titanic has hit the iceberg, the main characters in the movie are still partying! This is Dramatic Irony. The audience knows that the ship is going to sink, but the characters do not.

And if after watching the movie you jokingly say to your friend, “The Titanic was such a strong ship!” – that would be Verbal Irony!

Types of Situational Irony

Cosmic Irony

Cosmic Irony is also called the ‘irony of fate’. In this, the ironic situation arises because of the actions of a higher power, such as God, ghosts, or even aliens!

For example, the Genie in Aladdin turns Aladdin into a handsome prince so he can marry Princess Jasmine, but she still rejects him! Here the Genie is the higher power, whose magic causes Situational Irony.

Poetic Irony

Poetic irony is when an evil person gets unexpectedly punished for their crime! In Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Tell-Tale Heart, a man kills an old man and buries him in his room.

But later he is haunted by his crime. He keeps hearing the beating of the man’s heart and starts feeling crazy. He ends up confessing to the murder, and poetic justice is served!

Structural Irony

Structural Irony is when the narrator of a story turns out to be lying to the audience! Such a narrator is called an unreliable narrator. In this case, the entire story is based on an ironic situation.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry thinks an escaped prisoner is after his life. But in the end we find out it’s his father’s best friend, trying to look after Harry! Thus Harry’s innocence causes structural irony.

Historical Irony

Historical Irony is a very real form of Situational Irony! It refers to events in our history that become ironic due to something happening later. Historical Irony can take place in fiction as well.

For example, William Bullock created an improved printing press and changed the entire industry. But 4 years later, while fixing one of his presses his leg got caught in the machine! He died because of this accident, thus being killed by his own invention.

Situational Irony Examples

  1. A robber steals valuables from a policeman’s house. This is ironic because a policeman is supposed to catch thieves but gets robbed himself.
  2. A pilot who has a fear of heights. This is ironic because a pilot’s job is to fly an airplane at great heights.
  3. You wake up and get dressed quickly for school only to realize it’s a holiday. This is ironic because you were trying not to get late when you can’t even go to school.
  4. The smartest student in a class is caught cheating in a test. This is ironic because you would think the smartest student would have studied for the test beforehand.
  5. A bookstore owner who doesn’t like to read books. This is a situational irony since you would expect a person who spends so much time around books to also like to read.

Situational Irony in Literature

  1. In the Tortoise and the Hare, a tortoise challenges a hare to a race. The speedy hare is expected to win. But he takes a break in the middle of the race and falls asleep. The tortoise keeps moving slowly and wins!
  2. In The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, a poor couple decides to buy anniversary gifts. The wife sells her hair so she can buy a chain for her husband’s watch. Later, the husband tells her that he sold his watch to buy a comb for her hair! So both of them end up with useless gifts.

Situational Irony in Film and TV

  1. In The Sixth Sense, a doctor meets a boy who says he can talk to dead people. The doctor does not believe him at first. But by the end of the movie, we find out the doctor was a ghost himself!
  2. In The Good Place, the characters happily believe they are all in Heaven after their deaths. However, as the show progresses, it is slowly revealed that they have actually been in Hell the entire time!

Situational Irony in Pictures

This man is eating fast food at Subway, while he reads a book about fasting! How ironic!

This car which got into an accident right next to a sign which thanks people for driving carefully, is also a good example.

Exercise: Which of the following is an example of Situational Irony?

  1. The rat ran away from the cat.
  2. She said, “It’s such a sunny day!”
  3. The doctor has taken a sick leave.
  4. The apple has worms in it.

Answer: You would expect a doctor to stay healthy and fit! So if she’s taking a sick day, that’s Situational Irony!


  • Situational Irony is when an unexpected situation takes place, different from what you think would happen.
  • For example, you call your friend but get a busy dial tone because your friend is also calling you. The situation is ironic because even though both of you want to talk to each other, you can’t because you’re calling at the same time.
  • There’s also Verbal Irony when people say something they don’t mean, and Dramatic Irony where the audience knows more than a story’s characters.
  • Cosmic, Poetic, Structural and Historical Irony are different types of Situational Irony.
  • Situational Irony is used in stories, movies and shows to make them interesting, funny or thrilling.

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