Perhaps you’ve heard the song “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette. In the song, Alanis gives examples of things that are ironic, such as “rain on your wedding day,” “a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break,” and “a death row pardon two minutes too late.” But the only thing ironic about this song is that none of these examples demonstrate irony—just an unfortunate coincidence or pure bad luck.
Here’s a look at irony vs. coincidence so we can use them correctly in our writing.
Merriam-Webster defines irony as “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.” In other words, irony describes a situation where the opposite of what you’d expect occurs, such as:
- A fire truck catching fire
- A seal that’s afraid of water
- A matchmaker who’s bad at relationships
In all of these examples, the result is the opposite of what you’d expect, making it ironic. We just gave examples of situational irony, but there is also verbal irony, dramatic irony, and tragic irony. Consider how these subcategories could add more depth to your writing.
But what about coincidence? Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection.”
Coincidences are the chance encounters that drive the plot of almost every romantic comedy. Here are a couple of examples:
- A woman decides she wants to marry a man named Damon Bradley and then gets engaged to a man whose friend is Damon Bradley.
- A man who bets he can make any woman fall in love with him in 10 days meets a woman who is writing a column on how to get rid of a man in 10 days.
In these situations, the events are unexpected but not opposite to what you’d expect as is the case with irony.
Now that you know the difference between irony and coincidence, you won’t have to second-guess whether something is ironic or coincidental. In the future, you can use these words correctly to add more substance to your writing.
Until next time!