What Is Sarcasm?

Sarcasm is the act of saying one thing while meaning the opposite.  It is mostly a verbal device, with intention of putting someone down. For instance, if you say, “Yeah, he’s a real mental giant” while rolling your eyes, you’ve just engaged in sarcasm. Though always mocking, sarcasm ranges from affectionate ribbing to deliberate humiliation.

Sarcasm can be obvious, as in the example above, or it can be subtle or deadpan. Most people know someone who makes sarcastic remarks with a straight face, leaving his audience wondering if he meant what he said. That’s because, on a literal level, the sarcastic remark could be true. For instance, if you say, “She’s really beautiful,” you could mean it. The tone and accompanying gestures are what let others know you are being sarcastic.

How Do You Identify Sarcasm in Writing?

Occasionally characters in a play or novel engage in sarcasm, in the same way that people do in real life. In first-person narratives, like The Catcher in the Rye, the narrator may speak in a sarcastic or bitter tone — but they are not really engaged in sarcasm. It would be almost impossible for a narrator, even an unreliable one, to be sarcastic to the reader because sarcasm is an intentional untruth, and narrators strive to be truthful to their audiences. What makes a narrator unreliable is the fact that she lies to herself or lacks the knowledge needed to make truthful statements, not the fact that she attempts to lie to the audience.

That’s not to say we have no written sarcasm. Sarcasm thrives on internet forums, where the use of capitalization and winky emoticons helps readers understand the writer’s true meaning.

Examples of Sarcasm

Sarcasm Examples 1. I’m so happy the teacher gave me all this homework right before Spring Break.

Sarcasm Examples 2. I work 40 hours a week to be this poor.

Sarcasm Examples 3. I love the fact that my neighbor’s dog barks at me whenever I go outside. It makes me feel noticed.

Sarcasm Examples 4. That speaker was so interesting that I barely needed to drink my third cup of coffee.

Sarcasm Examples 5. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.” — Mark Twain

(View all literary devices)