Mar 012013

People are sarcastic when they say the opposite of the truth, or the opposite of their true feelings in order to be funny or to make a point. It is often thought that along with drinking tea and waiting in queues, the British have a fondness for sarcasm.


Some common examples of sarcasm
Remember to judge when and with whom to be sarcastic – you can offend people with inappropriate use of this language.

After something bad or annoying happens:
Oh terrific / great / brilliant! That’s just what I need.

After something unsurprising happens:
Well what a surprise!

After somebody makes a mistake:
Oh nice one!
Oh well done!

After someone says something obvious:
No?! Really? You’re quick / clever!

The language of sarcasm
There are no fixed rules about what language to use when being sarcastic, but the following features are quite common (but this language is used when people aren’t being sarcastic too!):

Tag questions:
Of course, you’re the real expert at driving, aren’t you?

‘Yes’ … ‘because’:
You can use this to disagree or argue with someone by seeming to agree:

A: Slow down! You’re driving too fast!
B: Yeah right, ’cause you never drive too fast, do you?

‘I forgot’:
A: Slow down! You’re driving too fast!
B: Sorry, I forgot you were the expert driver! How many times have you crashed in the last year?

‘If’ … ‘must’:
Well if you read it on the Internet it must be true!

Make it clear that you are being sarcastic
It’s really important that your conversation partner realises that you are being sarcastic. Here are a couple of ways of doing this:

Exaggerate your feelings using strong words and a lively intonation. So if something bad happens, instead of saying

Good, I’m glad that’s happened


Great! That’s just what we need!

People will also sometimes use old-fashioned English to exaggerate:

Gosh, you’re quick!
I say, that’s a surprise!

Sometimes, the situation will make it obvious that you are being sarcastic and you don’t need to worry about people misunderstanding you. But if you are worried that people might misunderstand you, then after your sarcastic comment, say

Just kidding! or
I’m only joking! or
I’m sorry! … I’m just being sarcastic.

If you want to be sarcastic in writing (for example in an email), try putting an exclamation mark in brackets after your sarcastic comment, like this:

So then we visited an enormous steam train museum and you can just imagine what fun that was(!)

BBC How to… be sarcastic Transcript Video


BBC How to… Part 7

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