What Is Verbal Irony (Definition and Examples)?

define verbal irony
'Ace Ventura'Credit: Warner Brothers
What's verbal irony? Let's find out together. 

There's an old saying that goes, "Say what you mean, and mean what you say." It's safe to assume the person who coined that phrase was not a fan of verbal irony. We'll go over the definition of verbal irony soon, but for now, ruminate on that fact.

Dialogue is one of the key parts of screenwriting. Sure, we have silent films and quiet moments, but the dialogue is where many writers cut their teeth and prove their worth. It's where you can prove you should punch-up other scripts and can impress execs. 

So today I want to look at how you can work verbal irony into your dialogue. 

Let's get going!  

What is Verbal Irony (Definition and Examples)? 

Define Verbal Irony 

Verbal irony is a figure of speech or a line of dialogue where the speaker intends to mean something that contrasts with the literal, or actual meaning of what they are saying.

The best example of this is to think about someone outside during a blizzard saying, "What a lovely day!"

Sometimes, there is a crossover between verbal irony and sarcasm. 

People use these statements as double entendre, to poke fun, and to heighten emotions from a certain scene. A lot of times, we see these statements in the comedy genre, since they tend to undercut or offer comedic relief. But they apply to every genre. 

Verbal Irony in All Genres 

The contrasting lines have room in every kind of writing. We can see the verbal irony in dialogue across every single genre out there.

Whether it's someone on a bad date in a rom-com saying, "This is going great," to a person in a horror movie or show saying, "I'm not scared at all." 

We can find a few specific examples to check out. 

Verbal Irony Examples in Film and TV 

At the top of the list, I cannot think of another character whose dialogue embodies verbal irony better than John McClane in Die Hard.

There are many examples within the movie, but my favorite is "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..." which he utters while stuck in an air duct, obviously not having a great time. 

Or what about in Game of Thrones?

That show has a ton of irony in it, but one line of verbal irony I always loved was when Visery dies, which is ironic because he dies after Drogo pours molten gold on his head, giving him the crown he has been begging for since the show's pilot. 

'Game of Thrones'
'Game of Thrones'Credit: HBO
Finally, we should talk about the most famous instance of verbal irony ever.

It's in Dr. Strangelove when we hear this line, "Gentlemen! You can't fight in here! This is the war room!" That's the perfect example of something that makes that movie and Stanley Kubrick so special. 

'Dr. Strangelove'
'Dr. Strangelove'Credit: Columbia Pictures

What do you think are some of the best uses of verbal irony ever? 

Let us know in the comments.      

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