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Some rude person said my English was bad, because I said "I know what an irony is" instead of "I know what irony is". Although the second sounds better, I don't think the first is incorrect grammatically. Is it?

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  • Expect people to say that something about you is bad (English or whatever). That is alright. But if they are rude to you - walk away.
    – AIQ
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 22:42
  • Prior to your remark, were you talking about irony, ironies in general, or a particular irony?
    – David K
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 1:35

2 Answers 2

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Although irony is listed in dictionaries with a plural as well, we don't normally say "an irony".

EXCEPT in certain cases such as: an irony of fate. An irony of history, An irony of situation.

  • It was an irony of fate that the ship went down.

In everyday conversation, such as the OP's, one would most likely say:

"I know what irony is". It's use there is as an abstract noun. However, it is listed in dictionaries as countable. In that utterance, irony is a concept.

Be Careful of the Ironies in Your Life History is full of irony. Consider some of theses famous statements.

irony and ironies

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Both are correct.

  • "Irony" is the concept of irony.

  • "An irony" is an example of irony - an ironic situation.

Likewise "tragedy" is a concept, whereas "a tragedy" would be a specific, tragic situation.

This Ngram shows that "an irony" is being used with increasing frequency.

This link will show numerous references in literature to "an irony".

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    in my (US English) dialect, "an irony" sounds awkward and non-idiomatic; "an ironic situation" would be preferred.
    – Hearth
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 2:35
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    @Hearth I feel the same way as a native BrE speaker. Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 6:08
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    @Strawberry We don't have the wider context, so I'm having to answer at face value. I've established that "an irony" can be correct, and in my answer I explain what "an irony" is. If I can explain what an irony is, then the OP could rightly respond "I know what an irony is".
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 10:22
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    Your examples refer to use as a countable noun. The OPs phrase is attempting to use an article with the noun in its abstract uncountable sense, which is why it sounds as odd to native English ears, as "I know what a sugar is". Despite people here often asking for "2 sugars in their tea".
    – james
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 10:44
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    @james Without context, we don't know whether or not the OPs phrase is attempting to use the countable or uncountable form of the noun. Plus, I know what a sugar is: it's a soluble carbohydride, such as a monosaccharide (glucose, fructose) or a disaccharide (sucrose, lactose). That's quite the irony - do you know what an irony is? Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 11:25

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