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A concession is a literary device that occurs in argumentative writing in which one acknowledges another’s point.

Concessions allow for different points of view and various approaches to an issue. They often lead to a more nuanced discussion of an idea or problem. When one is willing to make a concession to their opponent, or the person on the other side of the argument, they are generally better off for it. It shows an ability to think about issues on a higher, more complex level. Plus, it means that one has truly considered all sides of an argument and should then be able to argue their own perspective more effectively.

Concession pronunciation: kuhn-seh-shun
Concession - definition and examples

Definition of Concession 

The word “concession” comes from the Latin word “concessionem,” meaning “allowing” or “conceding.” A concession occurs in written or verbal arguments when one person agrees with what another is saying or when they allow the other to share their ideas freely.

When someone uses concessions in their writing, the end result is far more nuanced and interesting than if they’d stuck to one side of the argument. Concessions also occur in formal arguments and debates when one person agrees with the aspects of the other’s point of view. It does not mean that one person loses the argument or that the other has been swayed. Making a concession can, in some circumstances, shows that some parts of another argument have merit and therefore reinforce one’s own point of view. 

Examples of Concessions

  • You’re right, I did go to the store today, but I didn’t spend your money. 
  • I still don’t think it’s going to rain today, but the clouds are certainly dark.
  • I understand how you feel, but that doesn’t excuse your actions. 
  • You might be right about the price, but I still don’t think you should buy it. 
  • I hear what you’re saying but are you always going to feel like that? 

Examples of Concessions in Literature 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

In one of the courtroom scenes in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the following lines are spoken by Atticus Finch: 

She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with. She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance, but I cannot pity her: she is white.

He’s arguing for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. He tries to turn the accusation back around on Mayella. She’s not committed a crime, he concedes and is a victim. But, he says, not a victim of the crime she’s accusing. She’s a victim of “cruel poverty and ignorance.” This concession isn’t enough to excuse what she’s done, though. She’s white, and that gives her undeniable privilege in the world. She should know the power her words have to ruin Tom Robinson’s life, but she ignored that fact.

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare 

In Shakespeare’s well-loved play, The Merchant of Venice, there is a famous monologue that contains a concession. In the courtroom scene, with Portia dressed up as a lawyer, she speaks about mercy. Here are a few lines: 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

She makes a concession in the last lines of this excerpt, saying that a king’s power “shows the force of temporal power.” Portia understands how kings yield their power, and that dread and fear are often a part of it. But, she goes on to say: 

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

Mercy is an even more impressive force to wield. It shows that a king has the ability to think about complex topics and come to a peaceful resolution. It shows the power of one’s character and one’s fairness when faced with a difficult situation. 

Explore William Shakespeare’s poems.

Why Do Writers Use Concessions? 

Writers use concessions in order to show the common ground between two opposing sides or ideas. That common ground might be used to unite the two sides or to prove that both sides have valid points. In a debate over an important or contentious topic, making a concession allows readers (or characters depending on the context) to see that the writer has considered all sides of the argument. This makes the overall content far more complex and encourages healthy arguments and debates. 

Concession or Rebuttal 

Concessions are often related to another literary term, rebuttal. At the same time, they are both concerned with arguments. They aren’t the same thing. A rebuttal is made to directly challenge another’s argument or beliefs. It can be far more divisive than a concession is meant to be. For example, two people might be arguing about the health risks involved with smoking, and the anti-smoking side could come back with a rebuttal that includes research studies on the subject and personal testimony. 

  • Ad Hominem: uses irrelevant information in an attempt to discredit someone’s opinion or argument.
  • Bandwagon: a persuasive style of writing that is used to convince readers of an argument or make them understand a certain perspective.
  • Bias: undue favor or support to a particular person, group, race, or one argument over another.
  • Literary Argument: a piece of literature is a statement towards the beginning of a work that declares what it’s going to be about.
  • Logos: use of logic to create a persuasive argument in writing.

Other Resources 

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