Concession Definition

A concession is something yielded to an opponent during an argument, such as a point or a fact. Concessions often occur during formal arguments and counterarguments, such as in debates or academic writing. A writer or debater may agree with one aspect of his or her opponent’s ideas and yet disagree with the rest. The writer will allow this one aspect to be true, while proving how the rest is wrong. Conceding certain points can have certain tactical benefits, such as showing how some aspects of the opponent’s arguments are fallacious.

The word concession comes from the Latin word concessionem, which has the same definition of concession, i.e., “allowing or conceding.”

Common Examples of Concession

We can find examples of concessions in debates easily. Usually the person making an argument will state a concession, then follow that with “but” to show how an opponent may be making a misguided argument. Other concessions may start with the phrase “it is true that…” or “certainly.” Here are some concession examples in bold:

  • Inequality of wealth is not a new concept. The gap between the super-rich tycoons of today and the poorest employee is not as great as a century ago, given the benefits the government provides. But that does not make it acceptable.
  • It is true that issues may sometimes become polarized and debated heatedly. Certainly, there is a need for matters of public concern to be discussed rationally. But that does not mean that such concerns should not be expressed and investigated.
  • It is too early to say whether these reforms will prove successful. But the fruits of the policies can perhaps be seen in the fact that the fall in this year’s exam pass rate is negligible compared with last year.
  • Piracy and cost-free use of copyright materials deliver short-term gains to users. But if we fail to safeguard the rightful interests of authors, singers and film-makers, all will suffer as they become less resourceful in exploiting their creativity.

We can also find examples of concessions in political debates, such as in Governor John Kasich’s remarks at a 2015 GOP debate:

Our unemployment is half of what it was. Our fracking industry, energy industry may have contributed 20,000, but if Mr. Trump understood that the real jobs come in the downstream, not in the upstream, but in the downstream. And that’s where we’re going to get our jobs.

Significance of Concession in Literature

Concession examples are somewhat more difficult to find in literature than in other forms of writing, such as academic writing or journalism. This is because authors of literary works don’t usually make arguments that are as explicit as in these other forms of writing. However, some authors will create characters who make concessions to each other in conversation or arguments. Authors also may choose to write concessions to the audience as if guessing what the audience is thinking about a certain situation and writing in response to those assumptions. These are often the more interesting concession examples, as they set up a perceived dialogue between author and reader that, although it is actually one-way, seems to include and challenge the reader.

Examples of Concession in Literature

Example #1

PORTIA: 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;
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.

(The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare)

In this famous courtroom scene from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the character of Portia has dressed up as a lawyer and gives a well-known speech about mercy. As part of this monologue, Portia makes the concession that a monarch’s sceptre “shows the force of temporal power,” and that is leads to “dread and fear of kings.” She clearly understands where a king’s power comes from. Yet she believes—and argues—that mercy is an even more impressive thing for a leader to wield. This is because leaders don’t necessarily need to show mercy, and in so doing they show the power of their character. Portia strengthens her argument for mercy by acknowledging that which is usually attributed as the mightiest aspect of a ruler.

Example #2

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.

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

The above excerpt is another courtroom scene, this time from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is arguing the case for his defendant Tom Robinson. He tries to turn the accusation back against Mayella Ewell, the girl who originally accused Tom Robinson of a crime. In this closing speech, Atticus concedes the point that Mayella has not committed a crime in falsely accusing Tom. Atticus also makes the concession that Mayella herself is a victim, though not of the crime on trial; she is a victim of poverty. Yet Atticus affirms that these concessions aren’t enough either to sympathize with what she has done or even what she has undergone. The fact that she is white automatically gives her privileges and thus makes her accusation against an innocent black man all the more inexcusable.

Example #3

TOM: Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

(The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams)

Tennessee Williams’s play The Glass Menagerie contains an interesting example of concession right in the very opening lines. The main character and narrator of the play, Tom, addresses the audience directly in his first few lines. He acknowledges that the guise of a play might make everything seem more fictional, and makes the concession that he has “tricks in [his] pocket” and “things up [his] sleeve.” Yet he avers that behind all the tricks, there is much truth in this play. This is an example of a concession directed at the assumptions of the audience that Tom and Tennessee Williams are working against.

Test Your Knowledge of Concession

1. Which of the following statements is the best concession definition?
A. A rebuttal against something the author disagrees with.
B. An allowance of a common point with an opponent.
C. A demonstration of the fallacy in an opponent’s argument.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #1″]
Answer: B is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

2. Why might an author choose to use an example of a concession?
A. To address what the readers might be thinking and answer this with the author’s own ideas.
B. To convince the reader that the author is the only one with the right point of view.
C. To convince the reader that he or she is completely wrong.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #2″]
Answer: A is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

3. Which of the following statements is not an example of concession from a debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in 2012?

OBAMA: And to the [your credit, Romney], you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.


ROMNEY: I congratulate [Obama] on — on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaeda. But we can’t kill our way out of this mess.


ROMNEY: With the Arab Spring, came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation, and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women in public life, and in economic life in the Middle East. But instead, we’ve seen in nation after nation, a number of disturbing events.

[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″]
Answer: C is the correct answer. Though Romney uses “but,” which could often signal that someone has just made a concession, he is pointing out the failures of policy rather than agreeing with anything that was done.[/spoiler]