Definition and Examples of Apophasis in Rhetoric

An example of apophasis from Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House
NBC Universal Television

Apophasis is a rhetorical term for the mention of something in disclaiming intention of mentioning it--or pretending to deny what is really affirmed. Adjective: apophatic or apophantic. Also called denial or omission. Similar to paralepsis and praeteritio.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines apophasis by quoting John Smith's "The Mysterie of Rhetorique Unvail'd" (1657): "a kind of Irony, whereby we deny that we say or doe that which we especially say or doe."

Bryan Garner notes that "[s]everal set phrases in our language signal apophasis, such as not to mention, to say nothing of, and it goes without saying" (Garner's Modern English Usage, 2016). 

Etymology: From the Greek, "denial"

Pronunciation: ah-POF-ah-sis


  • Jeff Fisher
    We don't make excuses, but three of our four starting defensive linemen were watching the game today.
  • Michele Bachmann
    I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.
  • Jacob V. Lamar
    At a White House press conference, a reporter working for a journal published by Extremist Lyndon LaRouche asked the President about rumors that Michael Dukakis once sought psychological help. 'Look,' [President] Reagan replied with a smile, 'I'm not going to pick on an invalid.'
  • Richard M. Nixon
    Let me say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the payroll and has had it--her on his payroll for the ten years--for the past ten years. Now just let me say this: That's his business, and I'm not critical of him for doing that. You will have to pass judgment on that particular point.
  • San Fernando Red
    I'm not going to throw mud at my opponent because he's a fine man. And his wife is a mighty fine woman. Mighty fine. What he sees in that dame he's running around with...
  • The Guardian
    Mary Matlin, the Bush campaign's political director, made the point with ruthless venom at a press briefing in Washington, saying, 'The larger issue is that Clinton is evasive and slick. We have never said to the press that he is a philandering, pot-smoking, draft-dodger. There's nothing nefarious or subliminal going on.'
  • Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man 2
    I'm not saying I'm responsible for this country's longest run of uninterrupted peace in 35 years! I'm not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a phoenix metaphor been more personified! I'm not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven't come across anyone man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best day! It's not about me.
  • John Milton
    I shall ignore the fact that Learning is youth's finest ornament, the strong support of the prime of life, and the consolation of old age. I shall make no point of the fact that, after careers full of achievement and glory, many of the men who have been most honored by their contemporaries and many of the most eminent of the Romans withdrew from the conflict and hurly-burly of ambition to literary studies, as to a harbor and a delightful treat.
  • Mayor Massimo Cacciari
    It's not my habit to comment on books that don't interest me or, for various reasons, I don't like.
  • Geoff Dyer
    So even though you’ve seen fit to wash your dirty linen in public like this, shorty, I will refrain from mentioning that it wasn’t me who turned up at the Islington Tennis Centre wearing a Rastafarian headband. 15–0! I also won’t sink low enough to point out that while I may have been the crappiest player of this quartet, my game would presumably have gotten off to a better start if, like you and Byng, I’d lived in a stately home with a tennis court in the back garden. 30–0! Byng: I’ll forget that you still owe me for your share of the indoor-court fee for that game on January 20, 2013. 40–0! As for Ardu, the world is better off not knowing about those famously dodgy line calls. Game, set, and match!

Thomas Gibbons and Cicero on Apophasis

  • Thomas Gibbons
    Apophasis, or denial, is a Figure by which an Orator pretends to conceal or omit what he really and in fact declares.
    "Cicero gives us a definition of this Figure, and furnishes us at the same time with instances of it in the following passage: 'Omission, says he, is when we say we pass over, or do not know, or will not mention, that which we declare with the utmost force. As in this manner: I might speak concerning your youth, which you have spent in the most abandoned profligacy, if I apprehended this was a proper season, but I now purposely wave it. I pass by the report of the Tribunes, who declared that you was [sic] defective in your military duty. The affair about the satisfaction concerning the injuries you had done to Labeo does not belong to the matter at hand: I say nothing of these things; I return to the subject of our present debate. . . .'
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Apophasis in Rhetoric." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Definition and Examples of Apophasis in Rhetoric. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Apophasis in Rhetoric." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 29, 2023).