Sarcasm, also known as verbal irony, occurs when a speaker says one thing, but actually means the opposite. It is signaled by a unique intonation pattern in English. It’s good to be able to recognize it, and in some cases, produce it. However, sarcasm is not appropriate in all situations because it can easily come across as rude, so it’s good to be cautious when using it.
How does sarcastic intonation compare to other types of intonation?
Genuine Confirmation: Yeah, right.
In this first version, the speaker sounds genuine, probably by confirming what the previous speaker has just said. Notice the falling intonation on “yeah” and “right.
Agreement: Yeah, right?
In this second version, a rising intonation on “right” seeks to agree with the listener or confirm what the listener just said. So if two students are discussing the answer to a question, and the first student offers an answer the second student is pretty sure is correct as well, this could be an appropriate response.
Notice the up-and-down intonation in the third version. This can be considered a sarcastic tone of voice in which the speaker is actually saying “no way.” Context is very important for sarcasm, so here’s an example: The first person says, “I don’t think I’m going to do well on the midterm.” The second student, not believing this statement, uses sarcasm to indicate her/his belief that the first student will do well on the midterm.
Check out the following examples of sarcasm, paying attention to the oscillating tone of the speaker. See if you can notice sarcastic tone in your conversations at school, work, or around the city.
|Situation||Example Sarcastic Response|
|Something inconvenient happens to you.||That’s just what I need. Great.|
|You expected something to happen, especially after warning someone about it.||What a surprise!|
|You had a boring experience.||Well, that was interesting.|
|Someone says something that is very obvious.||No, really?|
What do you do now?
First, see if you can find additional examples of sarcasm online. YouTube might be a good resource for this.
Second, come see a Speech Consultant to practice and to talk about when and how sarcasm might be appropriate (or inappropriate).