Irony and Semicolons: A Lesson

When pursuing literary mastery, it is very important that one knows their grammar, spelling and punctuation. Nothing reeks of ‘wasted time’ more than a poorly crafted piece. As someone who prizes fine works of word smithing, I believe a lesson on two of the more confusing aspects of grammar and punctuation, irony and semicolons, is much needed. These don’t have to be daunting and horrifying; with a bit of practice we will have you writing satire faster than Alanis Morissette can sing her opening line of Ironic.


Irony is one of those magnificent talents that no one in the world quite understands properly and rarely uses correctly. Saying one thing and meaning another is a fantastic way to confuse or amuse your listeners. Used correctly, it really adds to your conversation. For example, verbal irony:

‘I sure would love to spend my precious and valuable time explaining the use of irony to you.’

Whilst some people will tell you that sarcasm is not irony, the fact is still that I would rather be in Rome, absorbing pizza and cute boys from afar instead of explaining to you how amazing irony is.

Dramatic irony is a personal favourite. Used by all the literary greats (think Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet), it’s when an audience understands the significance of an event, but the leading lads and ladies do not. Think this:

Sir Pinklebury: ‘Don’t you worry chaps! There is absolutely nothing to fear in these deep, dark woods! Nary a scare to be had!’

Sir Finkledink: ‘But sir! What of those wolves we heard howling over winter? Will they not be still hiding in their dens?’

Sir Pinklebury: ‘Nay, the wolves be long gone as the spring approaches! They know strong knights like us will be a-hunting.’

Sir Finkledink: ‘If you’re so sure…’

~~ Wolf approaches unbeknownst to the knights ~~

Sir Pinklebury: ‘Let us be off!’

~~ Sir Pinklebury steps forward into the shadowy trees ~~

Sir Pinklebury: ‘Look nothing heeeAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGHHHHH!’

~~ Sir Pinklebury is eaten by wolf ~~

And here the audience would laugh and rejoice in the murder of the silly knight!

Another important type of irony is situational irony. This is when a reversal of expectations occurs, and can be the most tricky to perfect. To be effective, one must ensure that the scene is clear, before the reversal. Imagine this:

Lady Little is a small and anxious woman, pretty for her youthful age. She was worried about being attacked on her way home from an elegant party late at night, so as an extra precaution she slipped a small revolver into her purse. As she was walking home she tripped and stumbled, dropping her purse. BAM. The revolver went off, straight through her foot and brand new shoes!

The irony can be found in the fact that she had brought the revolver to keep her safe, but it instead caused her harm. This particular type of irony can be difficult to get exactly right, but when used properly, it is a beautiful (and sometimes dark) way to enhance a story.


Semicolons can be a distressing mark of punctuation. My year 8 English teacher began our first English class by announcing, ‘not one student of mine will be permitted to use the semicolon in any piece of work submitted to me!’ What kind of English teacher says that? To have a fully-grown adult telling me that I ‘must never mark my page’ that way made it even more terrifying.

But I have improved in the art of their usage and so shall you.

Let us begin with the point of the wonderful semicolon which is used to link independent clauses, two separate sentences that share meaning or replace the comma splice and use as a type of super comma.

See? We’re making progress here! Let’s consider the sentence:

Grandma forgot to get dressed today. She is crazy.

The two sentences are independent clauses – short, sharp and sweet. If we add in a semi colon, we get this:

Grandma forgot to get dressed today; she is crazy.

We’ve reduced the pause in the sentence without using and, but, nor or yet. And still, there is more! The semicolon can be used to invite the reader to read the first part as a rising inflective, and the second half as a falling inflective. It augments the excitement Grandma is already causing with her craziness and makes boring independent clauses into something more… thrilling.

You’ve already seen an example of the super comma, which is used to separate elements in a series that are already divided by commas, for example:

We are going to a few different places including, London, England; Paris, France; Rome, Italy; Vienna, Austria; as well as a few smaller towns on the way.

Isn’t that much clearer than nine commas? You would find yourself confused as to what was actually being listed!

Grammar and punctuation is easy!

With a little bit of understanding, and a whole lot of practice, grammar and punctuation can really make you into an incredible and expressive writer. Irony and semicolons are one of the harder concepts to get your head around but they really can improve and build on your writing ability. Fluency is much easier to attain when you understand the basics of grammar and utilise correct punctuation, leading to clearer sentences and much more interesting pieces. With that comes the ability to persuade and convince your audiences, making writing even more exciting!

Words by Zoe Butler

Image by Jessye Gelder

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.