Difference between Irony and Paradox

Updated on June 27, 2017

Irony and paradox are separate concepts that may appear similar at first glance. This article seeks to explain how they are actually two different literary devices.


Irony is often a source of humor

Irony is a literary device and a figure of speech that describes an occurrence or an event that happens differently than what is expected. While often humorous, irony is also employed in tragic situations.

There are several types of irony. A dramatic irony is a situation where the audience is aware of what is going to happen in a story while the characters in it do not. Socratic irony is present when a character, typically a teacher, acts stupid to make his students realize they are the ones who are stupid. An example situational irony is when a police officer gets arrested for breaking the law.

A popular example of dramatic irony is apparent in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Juliet drinks a potion that makes her look dead for the sole purpose of reuniting with Romeo. However, Romeo falls for the trick and kills himself in despair. Here, the audience knows Juliet is alive while Romeo clearly does not.

A paradoxical statement

A paradox is a logical statement that may appear to contradict itself on the surface but may actually be holding a latent truth. Paradoxical statements, while they may seem to contradict themselves or even appear inconsistent, may actually be true in nature. For instance, the statement “Less is more,” clearly makes use of contradicting words. One way of interpreting the idea behind this statement can be what is less complex can be better or more appreciated. Another popular statement is “This statement is false,” which is also known as the liar paradox. If this statement is true, then it is actually false. However, if the sentence is categorically saying it is false, then the statement must be true as well.

A paradox is also used to show a statement or opinion that goes against traditionally accepted ideas. It is a way of making the readers think about an idea in a creative way. In literary works such as George Orwell’s “1984,” the statement “War is peace,” shows that war is never a peaceful event but it can be a means of attaining peace.

The word paradox is derived from the Greek term paradoxon, which means “contrary to accepted norms and perceived notions.”

Irony vs Paradox

So what’s the difference between irony and paradox? Irony refers to an occurrence or event that transpires differently than, and often the exact opposite of, what was expected. A paradox, on the other hand, is a statement that is deliberately made to appear as a contradiction of itself when it may actually have a basis in truth.

Irony is used in literature as much as in everyday figures of speech. It is classified into several distinct types such as verbal, dramatic, literal, and Socratic irony. A paradox is usually categorized into literary and logical paradoxes. It is usually employed as a literary device to make people analyze concepts or themes in a creative manner. Paradoxes are used in mathematical concepts as well.

Comparison Chart

An expression of a real or literary event that is contrary to what is meantA statement or event made to appear self-contradictory but that may be often true.
Usually categorized into situational, verbal, dramatic, literary, and Socratic ironyLiterary, logical, and mathematical
For example, McDonald’s workers are warned against eating McDonald’s fries and burgers for health reasons.For example, “Less is more”


Here’s a podcast from two experts analyzing the difference between irony and paradox.