As more and more laws are written, they forbid more and more things. Luckily, English has a variety of options for describing something that is against the law. Illegal, illicit, and unlawful are three options that have been in use for centuries. Do they mean different things, or should choosing illicit or illegal boil down to which is most popular?
In this article, I will compare illegal vs. illicit. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context. Then, I will show you a way to memorize the correct usage of these words.
Illegal as adjective:
Illegal as noun:
Illicit as adjective:
Thai transport officials said Thursday that services using private vehicles to transport passengers, such as Uber or Southeast Asia’s GrabCar, are illegal because the vehicles aren’t registered for public transport. –The Washington Post
Kenny sent Andre’s wife an illicit text message.
The share of U.S. workers testing positive for illicit drug use reached its highest level in a decade, according to data from millions of workplace drug tests administered by Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the nation’s largest medical-screening laboratories. –The Wall Street Journal
Illegal or illicit:
Illegal and illicit are adjectives that mean against the law. Illegal is the most commonly used, followed by illicit. You can use legal as a reminder to use illegal in most cases, since these antonyms are both the most popular choice in their family of options.