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For other uses of prolepsis, see Prolepsis (disambiguation).

Procatalepsis, also called prolepsis or prebuttal, is a figure of speech in which the speaker raises an objection to his own argument and then immediately answers it. By doing so, he hopes to strengthen his argument by dealing with possible counter-arguments before his audience can raise them.[1]

In rhetoric anticipating future responses and answering possible objections will set up one's argument for a strong defense. The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism states that there are three distinct theoretical uses of prolepsis: argumentation, literary discussion, and conjunction with narratological analyses of the order of events.[2][page needed]

In argumentation, prolepsis is used to answer the opponent’s possible objections before they can be made. In literary discussion, prolepsis is used as a figure of speech in which a description is used before it is strictly applicable. Sayings such as "I'm a dead man" exemplify the suggestion of a state that has not yet occurred. In narratological analyses prolepsis can be used with the order of events and presentation of events in texts. This refers to the study of narrative in respect to "flash-forwards" in which a future event serves as an interruption of the present time of the text.[2]


  • "It is difficult to see how a pilot boat could be completely immune to capsizing or plunging, but pilot boat design criteria must meet the needs of the industry and pilotage authorities."


Prolepsis is linked to the rhetorical term inoculation. The Encyclopedia of Communication Theory describes this rhetorical technique in relation to its medical definition: introducing small doses of viruses to the body in order to build up immunization.[3][page needed] In rhetoric, the small dose of the threat parallels to the awareness of the opposing argument that is used to build up one’s argument by defense in prolepsis. William McGuire proposed the Inoculation Theory in 1964 to challenge attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that make an argument more resistant when exposed to counter views in weakened, small doses. Persuasion research in the 1950s found that providing two sides of an issue created a greater resistance to later arguments.[3] This is closely related to the rhetorical use of prolepsis as an opposing argument to defend the intended view of the argument.

Inoculation and prolepsis are both present in certain courtroom situations, as described in the Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. An attorney may set up their defense by disclaiming the negative views or classifications of the accused as untrue: "The prosecutor will call Ms. Jones evil, a bad mother, and a poor member of society, but these labels are not true. I will prove to you their inaccuracy." When the prosecutor asserts an attack on Ms. Jones' character, the jury is already prepared and expecting to hear it and they may question or even discount these accusations. The goal is not to overwhelm the audience members with anticipation or the opposing view of the argument, but rather to use the inverse argument to one’s advantage through strategic rhetoric.[3]


  1. ^ Douglas N. Walton (2007). Dialog Theory for Critical Argumentation. John Benjamins B.V. p. 106. ISBN 978-90-272-1885-8. 
  2. ^ a b Childers, Joseph; Hentzi, Gary (1995). The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-07243-4. 
  3. ^ a b c Littlejohn, Stephen W.; Foss, Karen A. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. SAGE. ISBN 978-1-4129-5937-7. 

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