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Elicit vs. Illicit

This article is about Elicit vs. Illicit — enjoy your reading!

  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips

Some homophones, similar-sounding words that don’t mean the same thing, are harmless. But elicit and illicit are not among them. They are completely different parts of speech; choosing the wrong one would be an embarrassing mistake. Moreover, it could mean the difference between asking for a response and instigating dangerous criminal activity.

With that important warning in mind, how should you use illicit or elicit in your writing? There is an easy way to decide. Continue reading for a discussion of these two confusing homophones.


The word elicit originated in mid-17th century: from Latin elicit- ‘drawn out by trickery or magic’, from the verb elicere, from e- (variant of ex- ) ‘out’ + lacere ‘entice, deceive’. Illicit originated in early 16th century: from French, or from Latin illicitus, from in- ‘not’ + licitus

Elicit as verb:

Elicit is used as a verb in English language where it means to evoke or draw out (a reaction, answer, or fact) from someone.

I tried to elicit a smile from Joanna.

Illicit as adjective:

Illicit is used as an adjective which means something that is forbidden by law, rules, or custom.

Illicit drugs’ trafficking across the borders is very common these days.


Good incentives can elicit greater effort. [New York Times]

Psilocybin would be infused into their bloodstreams before a psychotherapy session, tailored to elicit positive memories. [Independent]

For the curious souls who fall prey to dark influence and illicit highs, it’s easy to get mixed up in a worrying subculture. [Irish Times (dead link)]

The U.S. also wants Burma to open up to U.N. nuclear inspectors and sever illicit military ties with North Korea. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Elicit or illicit:

While these two words sound the same when spoken, their meanings are very different. Elicit is a verb, and a synonym of evoke. Illicit is an adjective, and a synonym of illegal. Neither word is ever used as any other part of speech.

Since elicit and evoke both start with the same letter, much the same as illicit and illegal, pairing these words with their synonyms will help you remember which is which, and in what contexts they should be used.

Now that you know the difference between these words, you can be confident that your writing will not suffer from this simple mistake. Any time you have questions about other confusing words, you can check this site for an explanation.


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