Grammar 101: Elicit vs. Illicit

by IELTS Australasia — April 14th, 2018

Elicit vs Illicit: Two words that can cause some confusion and it’s well worth to spend a few minutes to know the difference between the two.

Elicit often mean ‘to get something’. Illicit, on the other hand, describes something illegal. Because they are pronounced the same but have different meanings, we call these words homophones. These words are often confused – even by native English speakers. So, how to tell the difference between them?

  • Difference between elicit and illicit
  • Synonyms of elicit and illicit
  • Use elicit and illicit in a sentence

Click each topic to learn more about the differences between its and it’s.

Elicit or Illicit: the difference
Elicit

Is a verb: A word or phrase that describes an action, condition, or experience.

Illicit

Is an adjective: A word that describes a person, place, thing, event, substance or quality.

Elicit or Illicit: the definitions
Elicit
  • To get or produce something, especially information or a reaction.
  • To get a student to provide or remember a fact, response, etc. rather than telling them the answer.
Illicit
  • Illegal or disapproved of by society
Elicit or Illicit: the synonyms
Elicit

Could also mean (synonyms): Extort, evoke, extract, obtain, bring out, derive, fetch, wrest, wring, cause.

Illicit

Synonyms include: Adulterous, bootleg, contraband, illegal, illegitimate, immoral, improper, unlawful, prohibited.

Elicit or Illicit: in a sentence
Elicit
  • Barry wanted to elicit empathy, so he told everyone the story of his fight with cancer.
  • The officer was confident he’s able to elicit the truth about his partner’s disappearance from the informant.
  • The school fair was a success. It managed to elicit donations from many small businesses.
  • She hoped to elicit some information from her friends about her surprise birthday gift but failed.
  • If I can elicit enough support from my older siblings, I know that my parents will let me travel on my own.
Illicit
  • In school, students are prohibited from having illicit items such as drugs, alcohol and weapons.
  • I resigned. I couldn’t bear to work for a man who is willing to engage in illicit practices to grow his business.
  • Jayden stays away from all illicit activities because he doesn’t want to disappoint his loved ones.

Reference: Cambridge Dictionary

Want to learn more about commonly confused words?

In written English, it is important to know the correct spelling of a word you want to use. You don’t want to write “weak” when you mean “week” even though they sound the same. In spoken English, spelling is less important, but pronunciation is. Think about the word “lead” which can be pronounced as “led” or “leed.” Because these words cause a lot of confusion, it’s well worth to spend a few minutes to know the difference: homophones vs homographs vs homonyms. Read more here.

People often use elude when they mean allude, or write allude when they should really write elude. There are other commonly confused words too: Do you know the difference between belief or believe? That is the question of another article where we explain the difference between these two commonly misused words. Read it here.

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