Entertaining political shows often employ irony, sarcasm and satire to expose political errors and make people laugh. They’re aimed at inspiring some sort of change. NBC’s Saturday Night Live is a good example.

The English vocabulary can be very confusing at times. There are instances when an alternate meaning of words and phrases is intended which is far from their literal meanings. This occurs when writers employ irony, satire and sarcasm in their writing to add humor or make their writing more interesting. Spotting and writing ironic, sarcastic and satirical statements can be difficult if you don’t have a deep understanding of their meanings and how they’re used.

People tend to confuse irony with sarcasm and consider satire as a synonym but there are clear differences that set them apart. Irony occurs when something opposite to the expected outcome transpires. It is the incongruity between what happens and what is expected. Sarcasm is something similar. When an ironic remark is aimed at hurting and mocking someone, it is called sarcasm. Satire is completely different. Satire is a form of expression that utilizes humor to expose human failings and corruptions. Political officials are easy targets of satire. Read the detailed descriptions for each form of expression below.

Irony vs sarcasm vs satire – definitions, meanings and example sentences

Definition of irony

Irony is a noun and refers to a rhetorical device. Irony happens when a series of events occur in a way that is contrary to what was initially expected. These occurrences are either very amusing or humorous. If an expectation was a white outcome, than an ironic outcome would be black, not gray or any other color. The Greek origin of irony is ‘eiron’ which refers to a ‘dissembler,’ which is a person who hides the truth. Today, when writers employ verbal irony they are doing something similar – being scornful and saying the opposite to what is expected. Many people assume that irony is related to coincidence or bad luck, while in reality irony is associated with a subversion of expectations. Here are some examples of irony.

Example sentences of irony

  • A boy had obtained seven fractures in an accident. His friend asked him how he was feeling. He replied with an ironic remark. ‘A fractured hip, six broken ribs and still counting, I’m having the best day of my life.’

This is an example of verbal irony. The boy said that he was having the best time of his life while he actually meant that he was having the worst time ever.

  • Isn’t it ironic that while conducting a master chef class for baking goodies, the teacher was the only one who over-cooked and hardened her cake.

This is a good example of situational irony. The outcome turned out to be the exact opposite of what was expected because, in a batch of fifty amateur students, the teacher was the only one  to overcook her cake.

  • When the deceptive man expressed his feelings to her, the innocent woman failed to notice the irony in his demeanor.

A man was trying to deceive a woman saying that he had feelings for her and even though his insincerity was apparent in his ironic demeanor the woman remained oblivious to it.

Definition of sarcasm

Sarcasm is also a noun and refers to an insincere remark which is aimed at hurting someone’s feelings. The speaker intents a different meaning than the words employed by him. The word sarcasm has its root in the Greek word ‘sarkazein’ which translates to tearing and wounding. Since sarcastic statements mean the opposite of what is actually conveyed, they can be tricky to find in written content and they mostly depend on verbal allusions like an emphatic tone. For example, if someone is walking really slowly, you would say ‘could you walk any slower?’ even though what you really mean is ‘could you walk faster.’

Example sentences of sarcasm

  • Before the game began, he used sarcasm to shake the confidence of the opposing team.

This sentence describes how a witty player employed sarcasm to disrupt the confidence of his opponents during a game show.

  • Even though the villain spoke, ‘you’ll have the best time of your lives in this valley,’ the heroes recognized his sarcastic tone and prepared for battle.

In this sentence the villain is welcoming the heroes and saying that they are about to have a thrill of a lifetime but what he actually means is that they’re about to witness absolute hell.

  • His Mum asked him if he was having a good time while doing volunteer work at the charitable foundation. He replied ‘Yeah right.’ While what he actually meant was ‘heck no.’

This sentence describes how a boy felt about doing volunteer work at an NGO along with his Mum. The boy didn’t enjoy the work at all and gave a witty reply to his Mum.

Definition of satire

Satire is a noun. It is a form of expression that exposes people’s shortcomings or failures through the use of scornful language or hyperbole. Satire makes listeners or readers laugh. Renowned figures like politicians are victims of satire especially when they’re trying to be sanctimonious. Political cartoons employ satire along with witty commentary to depict reality in a funny way.  Most sketch comedy isn’t to be taken seriously but sometimes it is so accurate and convincing that it changes people’s perception.

The term satire has a very interesting origin. Its root word ‘satur’ translates to ‘well-fed’ and the term was initially employed in the phrase ‘lanxsatura’ meaning ‘a dish containing a variety of fruits.’ The root terms are completely different from the modern definition of satire we see today and should not be confused.

Example sentences of satire

  • If you want to know the meaning of satire you should watch Kate McKinnon’s parody of Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live.

This sentence tells us that Kate McKinnon’s satirical portrayal of Hillary Clinton is extremely funny and worth watching.

  • Amidst the 2000 presidential campaign, Saturday Night Live telecasted a satirical debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore which had a great impact on the way the audience thought about these candidates.

This shows how powerful sketch comedy shows can be. What was shown on the show became the wisdom for what was transpiring in the elections.

  • He argued that the satire was completely misrepresentative when it portrayed him as weak and whiny.

A man argued that his satirical representation was unrealistic and portrayed him wrongly. This is understandable since satire only appears true to the audience and not to its victims.

Remember, irony occurs on its own while people make sarcasm and satire happen. Another thing to note with satire or sarcasm is that the listener or the reader is in on the joke. Both are very entertaining and are openly employed in today’s pop culture. To reiterate the differences, irony is related to a subversion of expectations in a way that makes you laugh. Sarcasm is a caustic remark and satire is making fun of people through scorn or hyperbole. Moreover, since sarcasm is contradictory to what is said, people deliberately employ an emphatic tone alongside so that it is detectable. Hence, it would make sense if you incorporate verbal cues in your sentences while using sarcasm.