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Apparent Refusal

Updated Jul 5, 2023

Understanding the Rhetorical Device of Apparent Refusal

When it comes to the art of persuasion, rhetorical devices play a crucial role in capturing attention and influencing the audience. One such device is the "apparent refusal," a technique frequently employed by skilled orators and writers to engage their audience and strengthen their argument. In this article, we will explore the concept of the rhetorical device of apparent refusal, its purpose, and provide some notable examples.

What is the Apparent Refusal?

The apparent refusal is a rhetorical device that involves the speaker or writer initially rejecting an idea, proposal, or request, only to eventually accept or endorse it. This technique is used strategically to create suspense, pique curiosity, and build anticipation among the audience. By seemingly opposing a point of view or rejecting an argument, the speaker or writer can effectively capture their listeners' attention and make their eventual agreement or endorsement more impactful.

Purpose and Effectiveness of Apparent Refusal

The primary purpose of the apparent refusal is to engage the audience and stimulate their interest in the speaker's message or argument. By initially appearing to disagree or reject a certain proposition, the speaker creates tension and curiosity, prompting the audience to pay closer attention. This technique can be particularly effective when used in persuasive speeches, debates, or written pieces, as it allows the speaker or writer to control the narrative and guide the audience towards their desired conclusion.

Notable Examples of Apparent Refusal

Example 1: Mark Antony's Funeral Oration in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

In Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar," Mark Antony employs the rhetorical device of apparent refusal during his famous funeral oration. Initially, he claims that he has come to "bury Caesar, not to praise him." By suggesting that he intends to speak ill of Caesar, Antony creates an air of mystery and contradiction. However, as his speech progresses, it becomes evident that his true intention is to eulogize and incite the crowd against the conspirators.

Example 2: Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Speech

During his iconic Stanford University commencement speech in 2005, Steve Jobs also utilized the apparent refusal technique. He began by stating, "I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation." Jobs intentionally highlights his lack of a formal education to capture the audience's attention. However, he goes on to share his personal experiences and life lessons, ultimately inspiring the graduating students and emphasizing the value of pursuing their passions.

Example 3: Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" Speech

Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I Have a Dream" speech is another powerful example of apparent refusal. In one of the most memorable parts of his speech, King declares, "We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back." By emphasizing the obstacles and challenges faced by the civil rights movement, King creates a sense of urgency, ultimately inspiring his audience to continue fighting for equality.


The rhetorical device of apparent refusal is a powerful tool in the art of persuasion. By initially appearing to reject an idea or proposition, speakers and writers can captivate their audience, build anticipation, and ultimately guide them towards their desired conclusion. Through noteworthy examples like Mark Antony's funeral oration, Steve Jobs' commencement speech, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, we can appreciate the effectiveness of this technique in engaging, inspiring, and influencing others.

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