I ask this question from a European country; consider your answers this way.

Some people are unable to differentiate serious talking, jokes, and irony or sarcasm. Specifically for the latter, as it's a very thin line between seriousness and joking (and the meaning of sarcasm and irony is also not always well-defined), how should I be aware of someone using irony and/or sarcasm?

Usually, people can notice it "in their guts", as if it was some sort of reflex. If I'm not wrong, then how can I "adapt" this reflex? If I'm wrong, then what should I consider?

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    You mean sarcasm or irony? Sounds liek you are refering to sarcasm but actually writing irony.
    – dhein
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 17:42
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    @ZoltánSchmidt No it's not. Sarcasm from Germany is different from the northern parts of Norway, different from Scotland, and different from Greece. A "continent" tag does nothing to improve your question. Please edit your question to include specific, detailed information about the exact situation that you face. Otherwise, your question is way too broad for this site. If you want more information, please read Related Answers: Why your Pakistani answer won't always work for India.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 21:48
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    @Zizouz212 there was no specific situation behind the question. I intended to be as general as possible in order to help outsiders find this site and give supporting answer. If that is too broad, then close the question, because I literally can't make it specific.
    – Z..
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 23:10
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question body does not contain the appropriate amount of specific detail needed to create a high-quality question required by the standards of this site. Broad questions are discouraged, and as this question stands, it attracts answers that are all equally valid, and cannot be objectively measured for their appropriateness to the question.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 19:56
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    @AllTheKingsHorses I never said to include a country. I said to include a cultural background. Scandinavian Europe is different from Mediterranean Europe. Either way, it doesn't reference a specific situation, so the question is relatively poor in quality, and should be closed as Too Broad. I've given you meta references to tell you this, but I don't want to argue pointlessly in the comments.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 15:34

4 Answers 4


As a person who's relatively socially confident, here's the "gut process" it feels like I go through:

  1. Tone of voice and expression: Is the person speaking in an exaggerated tone or rhythm that is different from how they normally talk but doesn't seem to indicate anger? Is their face especially animated? Do they seem to be pausing as if they expect a laugh?
  2. Plausibility of statement: Does what they say make sense if taken literally? If someone says something which is factually wrong or doesn't make sense given the context of the conversation, irony is likely.
  3. Personality match: Is this the sort of thing this person would say without irony? Does it match your existing understanding of how they think and talk?

If one of these comes up, you consider the situation, and it's still unclear, there's no shame in asking something like, "I have trouble telling these things: was that irony?"

  • 4
    I would rephrase I have trouble telling these things to say instead I can't tell in this case.
    – user52
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:25

It is very difficult to distinguish between sarcasm and irony.

The 2 things you can do is

  1. Checking their face expression.

If it seems like a smile or laugh-at or similar expression, mostly it is a sarcasm.

  1. Check the words they used.

Anyway, we can't predict it with 100% conformance.


Beyond the tone and expression sarcasm can often be identified by context.

Generally when people say very positive things about very negative situations they're being sarcastic. As in:

I love it when my car breaks down.

Thanks for dumping all your tedious work on me, I really appreciate it.

Sometimes tone and expression aren't enough to identify sarcasm, because some people have a very flat delivery style which can be used to accentuate the comedic value of the statement. Some comics play this deadpan angle to great effect, think Tig Notaro, or Stephen Wright.


I have an autistic friend who just can't hear or see the difference. So if I tell her a joke I have to preface it with "Here's a joke" or "I could be sarcastic and say..."

I only know to do this because she told me. So say to your mates, I don't always get the sarcasm, can you flag it for me, otherwise I miss the joke.

Me, I miss a lot of sarcasm too, because I take everything very literally. Then if everyone's laughing I have to say, you were being sarcastic, right?

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