Basically, sardonic and sarcastic both stand for mocking gestures, but what is the difference in their contextual use?

Are there any other words that represent a similar gesture?

  • 2
    Please don't add separate questions as edits to original questions. Ask them as separate questions, if you deem them worthy of answers, since people will otherwise likely not see them.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 13:01
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    Sarcasm and the sardonic are best experienced, watch some British comedy, Blackadder or Fawlty Towers probably are the best candidates for exposure.
    – Orbling
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 13:15
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    I once read a personals ad that said, "Seeking someone who knows the difference between ironic, sarcastic and sardonic and can do all three."
    – MarkHu
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 23:36

6 Answers 6


@Manoochehr doesn't quite catch the meaning of sardonic. It means "grimly mocking or cynical." My Webster's gives its origin as

mid 17th cent.: from French sardonique, earlier sardonien, via Latin from Greek sardonios ‘of Sardinia,’ alteration of sardanios, used by Homer to describe bitter or scornful laughter.

It really doesn't carry the connotation of superiority or low opinion all by itself, although such feelings may accompany it.

Sardonic is in fact distinct from sarcastic but not by much, and many people use the two as if they are interchangeable, which, strictly speaking, they are not. Sardonic is more extreme and negative, and one can be sarcastic without being sardonic, and vice-versa.

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    Can you cite an example that can be rendered as a sarcastic comment but not as sardonic?
    – ikartik90
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:12
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    @ikartik90: "Having dropped an entire tray of dishes, Will sardonically announced, 'Well, it's just not my day, is it?'" Note that the statement itself is not sardonic by itself; it is the tone that would accompany it that would be sardonic. Will might have made a sarcastic statement instead: "Having dropped an entire tray of dishes, Will sarcastically announced, 'I'm really in top form today."
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:22
  • So can I say that sardonic is rather characterized by an expression, than a statement?
    – ikartik90
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:29
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    @ikartik90: Well, expression is a synonym for statement. I would say that sardonic is more characterized by tone and context.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:36
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    From the above example I very well understood the meaning of Sarcastic but seems like the meaning of Sardonic doesn't want to get into my brains. :/
    – ikartik90
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:53


Sarcastic: Well, this meeting with the boss should be hilarious.

Sardonic: Time for the monthly flogging by a twerp in a suit; I'll try not to get blood on the executive carpet.

Sardonic humour is mocking, but not necessarily sarcastic; sarcasm is stating a counterfactual, whereas sardony is a moment of grim poetic humour and may or may not contain counterfactuals. The above example uses melodrama rather than sarcasm as a device.


According to Longman Dictionary of contemporary English:

  • Sardonic: showing that you do not have a good opinion of someone or something, and feel that you are better than them

He looked at her with sardonic amusement.

  • Sarcastic: saying things that are the opposite of what you mean, in order to make an unkind joke or to show that you are annoyed

Was she being sarcastic?

sarcastic remark/comment/question

He can’t help making sarcastic comments.

sarcastic manner/smile/laugh etc

‘I thought so,’ she said with a sarcastic smile.

  • So, Chandler Bing from Friends is sarcastic but not sardonic, since he has low self-esteem. Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 10:02

The definition of the words I can read on the NOAD are:

  • Sarcastic: marked by or given to using irony in order to mock or convey contempt.
  • Sardonic: grimly mocking or cynical.

She wrote sarcastic comments on their failures.
She's witty and sarcastic.
Starkey attempted a sardonic smile.

The differences between the words are:

  • sardonic doesn't implicate the use of irony;
  • sarcastic is not used referring something/somebody cynical;
  • sarcastic doesn't implicate a grim (sad or relentless) tone.

The NOAD, in a note titled The right word, reports also:

Irony is the implicit humor in the contradiction between what is meant and what is expressed, or in the discrepancy between appearance and reality. An example would be to shout, in the midst of a hurricane, What a perfect day for a wedding!
Although sarcasm may take the form of irony, it is less subtle and is often used harshly or bitterly to wound or ridicule someone. Unlike irony, however, sarcasm depends on tone of voice for its effect ("a fine friend you turned out to be!", he said, with obvious sarcasm).

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    That's fine and good to an extent. But it still is incapable of bringing out the boundary that divides the words.
    – ikartik90
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:24
  • I extended the answer to make more evident what the difference between the two words is.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 11:34

To answer the currently unanswered half of the question:

Criticism, if done correctly, is different to sardonism or sarcasm in that they are a mode of voice, while criticism should be a balanced review of a subject. Unfortunately, bad criticism generally comes over as sardonic and sarcastic - so, you can see the confusion.


From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

Definition of sardonic

: disdainfully or skeptically humorous : derisively mocking // a sardonic comment

In contrast, here is its definition for sarcastic:

Essential Meaning of sarcastic : using or showing sarcasm // a sarcastic person/remark/reply

Essential Meaning of sarcasm : the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny biting/dry sarcasm a voice full of sarcasm

To illustrate this better, below are some film clips from YARN IO:

Example of sardonic:

Bill Nighy as rock and roll legend Billy Mack in the film Love Actually

Example of sarcastic:

Darryl Hannah as Roxanne Kowalski in the film Roxanne

For more on sarcasm, I recommend this:

Examples of Sarcasm: Understand the Meaning and Types

If there are types of sardonicism, I do not know what they are, but Wikipedia has a nice, short page that delves into the origins of the word:

Wikipedia page for Sardonicism

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