In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Irony

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Echoic Account of Irony
  • Pretense Theories of Irony
  • Comparative Works and Hybrid Accounts
  • Attitude Expression in Irony
  • Cues in Verbal Irony
  • Irony and Sarcasm
  • Irony and Humor

Linguistics Irony
Joana Garmendia
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0287


There are different types of irony, including situational irony, dramatic irony, cosmic irony, and Socratic irony. From a linguistic point of view, we are interested in what is called “verbal irony”: irony communicated via language. Verbal irony has been traditionally analyzed from a rhetoric or stylistic standpoint. In the last decades of the 20th century, the field of pragmatics opened a new and thriving path for the analysis of ironic communication. From a pragmatic standpoint, ironic utterances are a pretty interesting phenomenon, as it seems that the speaker’s meaning is very different from (or even contradictory to) the literal meaning of the utterance. Explaining why and how we communicate ironically is a challenge for every pragmatic theory. There are many different accounts that study ironic communication from a pragmatic perspective; Grice’s view, the echoic account, and the pretense theories are probably the main and most influential. Much has been said about irony in this field, but there are still many open debates about the basic elements of ironic communication: the importance of attitude expression and the asymmetry issue; the role of the speaker’s cues in irony recognition; the relationship between irony and sarcasm, on the one hand, and irony and humor, on the other; and so on and so forth. This article was written with the institutional support of the Basque Government (IT1032-16) and Grant PID2019-106078GB-I00 funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033.

General Overviews

Verbal irony has been studied in rhetoric, literary studies and, more recently, pragmatics. Muecke 2018 (first published in 1970) and Booth 1974 offer a broad perspective of the different conceptions of irony elaborated through history in the rhetoric and literary traditions. Barbe 1995 is a general approach to linguistic theories of irony. From a more specific pragmatic standpoint, Giora 1998 is very useful as a panoramic map, as it outlines the general positions and gathers references to the main works and theories. Garmendia 2018 is an accessible introduction to the pragmatics of irony, suitable for researchers who are willing to get familiar with the subject. Finally, Gibbs and Colston 2007 is a compilation of some of the most influential works in the pragmatics of ironic communication.

  • Barbe, Katharina. 1995. Irony in context. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    DOI: 10.1075/pbns.34

    Barbe analyzes irony from a linguistic standpoint. She examines previous theories of irony—pragmatic theories, but also literary and traditional approaches—and makes use of many instances of irony as examples. Throughout the book, she also touches on diverse aspects of ironic communication: the relationship between irony and lies, irony and jokes and irony and sarcasm, the problem of translating irony, and some others.

  • Booth, Wayne C. 1974. A rhetoric of irony. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Booth analyzes irony from a rhetorical standpoint. He distinguishes between stable and unstable ironies, and offers a rich variety of literary examples. He also touches on some neighboring phenomena, such as parody, sarcasm, satire, allegory, and metaphor. It is a general approach to the notion of irony, and an interesting review of classical and romantic theories.

  • Garmendia, Joana. 2018. Irony. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316136218

    This book is an introduction to the pragmatics of irony. It examines the main pragmatic theories of irony and focuses on some basic elements of ironic communication: attitude expression, ironic cues, and the relationship between irony and sarcasm and irony and humor. It includes many examples, activities, and definitions of basic pragmatic notions, so it is a good point of departure to introduce oneself in the pragmatics of irony.

  • Gibbs, Raymond W., and Herbert L. Colston, eds. 2007. Irony in language and thought: A cognitive science reader. New York: Erlbaum Associates.

    This is a collection of twenty-four articles on irony from a cognitive science perspective. It compiles works by the most influential authors in the pragmatics of irony, including Sperber and Wilson, Clark and Gerrig, Giora, Gibbs, Colston, and many others. The main pragmatic theories of irony are thus represented in the book. It is a must-have for anyone willing to delve into the pragmatics of ironic communication.

  • Giora, Rachel. 1998. Irony. In Handbook of pragmatics. Edited by J. Verschueren, J. Ostman, J. Blommaert, and C. Bulcaen, 1–20. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    This encyclopedic entry offers a good panoramic view of the pragmatics of irony. It gathers references to the main works on irony, offering quite an exhaustive bibliographical list. It should be noted though that it was published in 1998, so it is a bit limited in this sense.

  • Muecke, Douglas C. 2018. Irony and the ironic. London and New York: Routledge.

    This book was first published in 1970, with the title Irony. It is a broad and general approach to the notion of irony. Muecke examines the classics’ conception of irony, but also authors from the 18th and 19th centuries, and combines rhetorical and literary perspectives. He makes use of numerous and beautiful examples coming from literature, theater, and history.

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