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On The Office when Michael Scott buys temp Ryan Howard a brand new iPod for his $20-dollar-limit holiday gift, it goes painfully wrong. On Schitt’s Creek, when the wealthy Johnny Rose buys his son an entire middle-of-nowhere town as a joke, he never expected he’d lose all his money and assets and be condemned to live there. These are both examples of situational irony. Fun, right? Although you’re still probably wondering: What is situational irony? Keep reading for the situational irony definition and how it’s used for comedic relief!

Defined: What is Situational Irony

Situational irony takes place when the opposite of what is expected actually happens. It is a form of figurative language, which simply means it is a literary device that goes beyond the literal meaning of words. As figurative language, situational irony allows writers to show the characters’ intentions versus the outcomes, appearance versus reality. Situational irony also showcases individual characters and highlights their personalities in unique ways. 

What is Dramatic Irony?

Dramatic irony—yes, there are different types of irony—is unlike situational irony in the fact that the audience knows more about the situation than the characters. For instance, audience members of a show, movie, or play or readers of a book, short story, or novella might know something bad or surprising or good is about to happen before a certain character does. 

Famous Examples of Situational Irony

Romeo and Juliet

Arguably the most famous example of situational irony (and dramatic irony as well), Shakespeare’s play utilizes this literary device in the tragic scene of the two lovers’ death. Romeo believes Juliet, who is simply drugged, has killed herself, so he kills himself as well. When she wakes and finds him dead beside her, she too takes her own life. It is the opposite of what was supposed to happen, and the two lovers do not get their happily ever after. 

Harry Potter

Throughout the majority of the books, Harry believes he must kill Lord Voldemort to save the Wizarding World. However, Harry learns that he must actually allow Voldemort to kill him in order to save everyone he loves. As the hero of the story, it is the last thing the characters and audiences expected to happen.

The Sixth Sense

When a child therapist sets out to help a little boy who can see dead people, the last thing he expected to learn was that he, himself, is dead. It’s one of the most famous examples of situational irony and is beautifully used in this scary movie to keep the audience on their toes. 

Everyday Examples of Situational Irony

  1. A firehouse burns down.
  2. Finding cash in your wallet after stopping at an ATM.
  3. A tweet complains about the ineffectiveness of Twitter.
  4. Your child spills food moments after you vacuum. 
  5. It rains right after you wash your car. 
  6. Two people on a blind date start talking before knowing it is each other they are meeting. 

Try it Out Yourself!

Introduction to Fiction: How to Write the First Draft of a Short Story