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Irony and Ambiguity. Feature Menu. Surprises and Uncertainties What Is Irony? Verbal Irony Situational Irony Dramatic Irony Review What Is Ambiguity? Practice. Surprises and Uncertainties.

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irony and ambiguity
Irony and Ambiguity

Feature Menu

  • Surprises and Uncertainties
  • What Is Irony?
    • Verbal Irony
    • Situational Irony
    • Dramatic Irony
    • Review
  • What Is Ambiguity?
  • Practice
surprises and uncertainties
Surprises and Uncertainties

Writers use irony and ambiguity to create true-to-life stories. Irony and ambiguity help writers convey

  • the way real life surprises us, whether to our delight or to our disappointment
  • our lack of knowledge about the future and whether it will fulfill our expectations

[End of Section]

what is irony
What Is Irony?

Irony is the contrast between expectation and reality. Three kinds of irony are

  • verbal irony
  • situational irony
  • dramatic irony

[End of Section]

verbal irony
Verbal Irony

In verbal irony, a speaker says one thing but means the opposite. Verbal irony

  • is the simplest kind of irony
  • can become sarcasm if taken to a harsh extreme
verbal irony1
Verbal Irony

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice begins with an excellent example of verbal irony.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

How might this opening sentence be an example of verbal irony?

[End of Section]

situational irony
Situational Irony

In situational irony, what actually happens is the opposite of what is expected or appropriate. Situational irony

  • is often humorous
  • may mock human plans and intentions, which in real life often come to little
situational irony1
Situational Irony

Read this sentence from Hanson W. Baldwin’s R.M.S. Titanic.

. . . she was fresh from Harland and Wolff’s Belfast yards, strong in the strength of her forty-six thousand tons of steel, bent, hammered, shaped, and riveted through the three years of her slow birth.

Explain the situational irony in this ship sinking on its first voyage.

[End of Section]

dramatic irony
Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the reader or the audience knows something important that the character does not know. Dramatic irony

  • adds greatly to the tension in stories, plays, and movies
  • heightens the sense of humor in comedies and deepens the sense of dread in tragedies
dramatic irony1
Dramatic Irony

In this passage from Stephen Vincent Benét’s “By the Water of Babylon,” the narrator describes the vision he has while exploring the ruins of New York City.

What do readers know that the narrator does not?

When gods war with gods, they use weapons we do not know. It was fire falling out of the sky and a mist that poisoned. It was the time of the Great Burning and the Destruction. They ran about like ants in the streets of their city—poor gods, poor gods! Then the towers began to fall. A few escaped—yes, a few. The legends tell it. . . . I saw it happen, I saw the last of them die. It was darkness over the broken city and I wept.

[End of Section]


Quick Check

  • Identify each item as one of the following:
    • verbal irony
    • situational irony
    • dramatic irony

After tripping over his own feet, the teen exclaims, “That was graceful!”

The movie audience knows that a hostile alien is just past the door. “Don’t go in there!” one viewer yells at the screen.

The guest opens his mouthto compliment the chef, but before he can speak, he burps long and loudly.

[End of Section]

what is ambiguity
What Is Ambiguity?

Ambiguity is the element of uncertainty in a text, in which something can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Ambiguity

  • adds complexity to a work
  • invites readers to propose a variety of interpretations of a work
  • is found in subtle language and fine distinctions in a work
what is ambiguity1
What Is Ambiguity?

A work’s theme or mood may be ambiguous.

  • If a complex work has more than one theme, the work’s meaning will be ambiguous and multilayered.
  • A complex work may shift in tone from humorous to serious or from joyful to tragic.
what is ambiguity2
What Is Ambiguity?

When a work ends in ambiguity, readers must think about what the ending means. Read the last lines from R.M.S. Titanic. How do you interpret the final four words?

“The night was clear,” reported Lord Mersey, “and the sea was smooth. When she first saw the rockets, the Californian could have pushed through the ice to the open water without any serious risk and so have come to the assistance of the Titanic. Had she done so she might have saved many if not all of the lives that were lost.

“She made no attempt.”

[End of Section]


Invent an example of each kind of irony. Describe each example in a paragraph. Record your examples in a similar chart.

[End of Section]