Suppose Sam is a kind of person who always follows his own will when it comes to taking actions.

In this case, are the two sentences below identical in meaning?

Sam is refusing to make it happen.

Sam is unwilling to make it happen.

  • 4
    I can be unwilling to jump off a bridge, but you can't say I refuse to jump off a bridge unless someone has asked or commanded me to.
    – Dan Bron
    May 18, 2015 at 17:49
  • 7
    (Un)willing is a state of mind; refusing is a performative speech act. Big difference. May 18, 2015 at 18:06
  • @JohnLawler One can refuse without speaking. I know I have.
    – Dan Bron
    May 18, 2015 at 18:07
  • 2
    It's still performative; pragmatics includes non-speech events. May 18, 2015 at 18:13
  • @JohnLawler But does a performative involve actions that don't include speaking? I thought performatives were actions where the speaking was a de facto doing of the speech act described by the verb you're using as you actually say hat veb. As in I declare you man and wife kind of thing ... May 18, 2015 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


Unwilling doesn't necessarily mean that you didn't do something, but refusal suggests so.

An example Google gives as part of its definition is "unwilling conscripts".

Being unwilling to serve in the army could mean you grumble while you're there, whereas refusing to serve in the army implies you'll be thrown in prison.

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