Exercises for Sarcasm

Written Exercise: Recognizing Sarcasm by Context


For each utterance, come up with an appropriate situation in which you would interpret the utterance as serious, and another in which you would interpret it as sarcastic. (Obviously, there are lots of possible answers for these! If your answers differ significantly from ours, ask a friend to look at your answers and tell you what they think.)

“You’re such a good friend.”

Serious: The speaker is sick. A friend has come to visit, bringing soup. (Basically, any situation in which the “you” really has somehow demonstrated true friendship).

Sarcastic: The speaker has asked to borrow a book, but the other person is too lazy to look for it.  (Basically, any situation in which the “you” has failed to demonstrate true friendship.)

“Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Serious: Somebody has made a mistake, and the speaker is trying to say something comforting, to excuse the mistake.

Sarcastic: One person has made mistake after mistake after mistake, and the person commenting is insulting them – nobody is perfect, but you’re not even close! (This works as self-deprecation, too, if it is the speaker who has made a bunch of mistakes.)

“I hope you’re happy.”

Serious: Two old friends or former lovers haven’t seen each other for a long time. One expresses a sincere desire that the other is happy in life.

Sarcastic: One person has done something the speaker disapproves of. (This is a snarky way of implying “I hope you’re happy, because you’ve made everybody else unhappy.”)

“Mmm. Crunchy. That’s just how I like it.”

Serious: The speaker is eating something crunchy, and really does like it.

Sarcastic: The speaker is eating something that is supposed to be crunchy but is obviously soft and mushy (and therefore unappealing), such as wet croutons. OR the speaker is eating something that is crunchy, but shouldn’t be (and is therefore unappealing), like pasta.

“Wow, you look great!”

Serious: The speaker is greeting a friend. [Note: two heterosexual men are less likely to compliment each other’s appearance — but it could happen if, say, one had been sick, or if one has lost a lot of weight, or some other large transformation.]

Sarcastic: The speaker’s friend looks like he’s been up all night, with puffy, tired eyes and disheveled clothing. The intended meaning is, “Wow! You look terrible,” but the two people are close enough that sarcasm here is taken light-heartedly.

“Gosh, I love linguistics homework!”

Serious: The speaker truly enjoys linguistics homework. (Perhaps it’s just fun, or perhaps it really helps the speaker to learn the material.)

Sarcastic: The speaker is having difficulty with the assignment, or is irritated by the amount of it.

“Thanks, I appreciate your input.”

Serious: The speaker has gotten helpful advice or helpful feedback on a project.

Sarcastic: Someone has provided the speaker with unhelpful or unwanted advice, or failed to provide requested advice.

Wow, I like what you’ve done with the place.”

Serious: The speaker is complimenting the listener’s remodeling or redecoration of a physical space (home, office space, etc).

Sarcastic: The speaker is criticizing how the listener has not properly maintained or decorated a physical space (which may be a mess, may be overgrown, may need painting, may have no decorations at all, etc).

Audio Exercise: Recognizing Sarcasm

Listen to each audio file to determine if the speaker is sarcastic or not. (If you want more examples, check out the exercises for expressing emotion.)



Sarcastic: the unhappy tone (monotone until the final falling pitch) does not match the words.



Sarcastic: the words claim extreme fear, but there isn’t even a little bit of fear in her tone. Notice the steady, clear, confident voice (no quivering, no hesitation, no increased breathiness caused by actual fear).



Not sarcastic: If you compare this recording with the previous, you should be able to tell the difference. This speaker is admitting fear, and her voice is unhappy as well as breathy.



Not sarcastic: Although the speaker does not sound particularly intense here, we have no reason to doubt her words.



Sarcastic: A truly happy person would use rising intonation, not falling, and we would be able to hear the smile. (Literally: people pronounce vowels differently when their lips are spread.)



Not sarcastic: She claims only to be “pretty pleased,” not extremely happy, and her tone reflects this.



Sarcastic: Her voice sounds more annoyed than sad. Note the intensity, the lack of hesitation, as well as the hyperbole (she’s “completely” sad “right now”, which would be an odd way to phrase it, if sincere).



Sarcastic: she doesn’t sound surprised at all (no gasp-like intake of breath, no exclamatory (rising) intonation), and she leans on the “real” for hyperbolic effect.



Not sarcastic: he sounds really annoyed! (Notice the intensity.)



Sarcastic: Obviously, no one actually believes that umpires are always right! Just to be sure that we understand her sarcasm, however, she uses a sarcastic tone, and really leans on the “always.”

Audio Exercise: Recognizing Sarcasm

We have two audio files performing the same dialogue. Note that on the written page (without any further information about the second speaker’s personality, opinions, and attitude), we can’t tell whether or not the second speaker is being sarcastic. You should be able to hear a clear difference in the performances, however! Which is which?

Speaker 1:   Sally just got the editor job. Isn’t that great?
Speaker 2:   Well, gee, that’s just wonderful!
Speaker 1:   She’s so happy!
Speaker 2:   Yeah, I’m sure she’ll do just great. Her article last week was perfect.
Speaker 1:   Oh, it was! I’m going to go congratulate her!
Speaker 2:   Oh! I’m right behind you!


The first was the sarcastic version. The total lack of enthusiasm and happiness in the voice, the low pitch, and the monotone delivery are the giveaway clues that she does not believe what she’s saying. Compare this with the genuinely happy tone of the second recording.
Audio Exercise: Recognizing Sarcasm (Again)
Again, we have two audio files performing the same dialogue, in which Speaker 2’s attitude is ambiguous on the written page, with no visual or vocal cues. In which version is she being sincere, and in which version is she sarcastic?
Speaker 1:  Hey! There’s going to be a huge party this weekend!
Speaker 2:  Woo
Speaker 1:  Do you want to go?
Speaker 2:  With you?
Speaker 1:  Yeah. It’ll be great!
Speaker 2:  Yes! I’m sure it will be really fun!
Speaker 1:  Great! I’ll pick you up at 7:00!
Speaker 2:  Awesome. I can’t wait!


The second version was sarcastic (and really obnoxious!). Note how the sarcastic “with YOU?” implies that the speaker would never want to do anything with you.
 Video Exercise: 

Watch this conversation, looking first for examples of sarcasm. After you’ve identified particular examples, watch again to try to figure out how the sarcasm is being used (its function). *WARNING: this video contains language that might be considered inappropriate for children.*


The first clear example of sarcasm is when the young woman says (in reference to her boss): “I”m sorry you’re not the center of the universe.” The sarcasm lightens the mood a bit, which might otherwise be so negative as to be off-putting. The young  man seems to appreciate this, and responds in kind, complaining about his boss. He uses a sarcastic tone on the word “forgot” (as if he can’t believe that she really just forgot), and asking a sarcastic rhetorical question. (“I mean, how stupid can you be…?”) They are both using sarcasm to vent their frustration with their respective bosses. Because the use of sarcasm is reciprocal, and directed towards absent adversaries, not each other, this functions as an expression of solidarity between them.
 Video Exercise: 

Watch another snippet of conversation, again looking for examples of sarcasm and trying to figure out how the sarcasm is being used (its function).


This is an example of angry sarcasm. Listen to the tone of his voice when he says “Ohhh… So you think you’re gonna have to use math…?” He’s clearly making fun of her a bit. He’s phrasing it as a question, but the intention is clearly to communicate the idea that he is sure she (as a theater major) will never have to use math. When she argues (not sarcastically) that she will, in fact, use math, he retorts with a very sarcastic “really.” (Note that the downward intonation on “really” makes it clear that this is not a question, but an expression of his disbelief in what she’s saying — as evidenced by the challenging question that follows.) The effect of the angry sarcasm is to intensify the aggression level of the conversation, although this may not be the speaker’s intention. (He may be trying to be less aggressive by not directly saying outright “you’re wrong” or “I don’t believe you.” He cares enough about politeness to be indirect in his aggression!)

Role Play/Video or Audio Modeling

With a slight adjustment, we can turn one of the above dialogues into a story:

So this woman I work with told me there was going to be a huge party. I was like, “Woo.” She asked if I wanted to go, and I was like, “With you?” She said it would be really great, and I was all, “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be really fun. I can’t wait.

Record a couple of different versions of this story. In one, report what “you” said “straight” (with no sarcasm). In the other, try to sound as sarcastic as you can — make your voice drip with it! — but only when you’re directly quoting what “you” said (the parts in blue).  Play the recordings for various people and see if they can tell when you’re trying to be sarcastic and when you’re not.

2 responses to “Exercises”

  1. Wellington says:

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