I looked up the two words on wikitionary & got this:


A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. Humour is often used to aid this.


A form of humor that is marked by bitter mockery, often using irony, and sometimes conveyed in speech with vocal over-emphasis. With irony, it is insincerely saying something positive which is obviously the opposite of one's intended, cruel meaning. On the other hand it may be a direct taunt where the jibe means exactly what it says.

At first glance, they seem equivalent to me. Is there a clear distinction about when to use one & when to use the other?

5 Answers 5


Satire is usually prepared and lengthy. For example, the fake news site The Onion is satire because its staff members carefully prepare each article to make fun of a particular subject.

On the other hand, sarcasm is usually off-the-cuff and short. For example, if while watching a news broadcast about the war in Afghanistan, I remark "The war is going great! We've managed to kill a million civilians!", that would be sarcasm because I haven't prepared it and I'm making fun of the uselessness of the Pentagon.

  • 7
    The Onion is fake news?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 23, 2011 at 13:47

Satire is a form or genre, like comedy or tragedy, while sarcasm is a tone a style or tone.

  • 5
    Which means that satires often use or contain sarcasm, but not the other way 'round. Feb 19, 2011 at 21:15

Satire is a tone which reflects the thoughts of an author. Satires attempt to provoke a social change. There are two main types of satire: Horatian and Juvenalian. Horatian satire makes fun of a subject or idea and is only comical, not serious. An example of this is the skits on Saturday Night Live. Juvenalian satire is caustic and is only serious, not comical, for this satire is usually directed at a specific person like Henry VIII in Sir Thomas More's Utopia. However, there is one more satire which is Menippean satire, and this satire has many goals. An example of this is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Satire is a genre.

Sarcasm is neither a tone nor a genre but a rhetorical device. Sarcasm is obvious to everyone unlike irony. However, there can be a sarcastic tone and a type of irony to sarcasm. Also, sarcasm literally means to tear flesh or to sneer. Finally, sarcasm can be employed in Juvenalian satire.

  • Well researched and answered! This is not meant sarcastically! :D
    – David M
    Jan 1, 2014 at 22:18

I will add: Satire tends to be presented by pretending the intent of the author is genuine. In particular, satire can frequently be mistaken to be real by the uninitiated. Going back to the example of the Onion, there have been numerous situations where this PURELY SATIRICAL news source has been taken as fact. Often, this has been by otherwise educated people and government officials (note the distinction between the two . . .). (<------ This is SARCASM . . . )

If you want excellent satire, read the works of Jonathan Swift.

Sarcasm, if delivered properly, is rarely mistaken as being real. Orally, it typically is delivered with a tone that denotes that it is not meant to be taken as the true intent of the speaker. It can be more difficult when it appears in written form.

Also, and this might be a subject for debate, to my mind: Satire assumes the reader/listener is in on the joke. Sarcasm is meant as a derision toward the intended receiver (who may or may not be the reader/listener). Satire typically employs farce and humor, whereas sarcasm usually implies a slightly more sinister motivation.


The difficulty of delineation comes with the appearance of social media.

A satire would be a comedic play where the over-exaggeration or topsy-turvy use of words are used. Lysistrata. Sarcasm would tend to be delivered orally. I think of the wise-cracking, Radcliffe educated housewife, spewing bon mots at her overreaching husband.

Nowadays, people often let off a sarcastic phrase in the comments section, but sometimes they elaborate it into a kind of mini-essay which you might term, a satire.

  • Can you give sources for the way you are parsing this distinction?
    – virmaior
    Feb 22, 2014 at 23:51

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