Commonly Confused Words: Elicit vs. Illicit

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What does each word mean?

The word elicit means ‘to call forth’ or ‘to draw out’. It is used to describe the calling forth of emotions, opinions, responses etc.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is elicit used in some example sentences:

  • The museum elicited huge media interest.
  • She tried to elicit a smile from her crying friend.

The adjective illicit is used to describe activity which is done in spite of accepted morality, law, or convention.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is illicit used in some example sentences:

  • The area was known for the presence of illicit activities.
  • The company was fined for illicit conduct.

Where does each word come from?

Elicit dates back to the 1640s and comes from the Latin ‘elicitus’ which means ‘draw out, draw forth’. The word is made up of ‘ex-’ meaning ‘out’ and ‘-licere’, a form of ‘lacere’, meaning ‘to entice, lure, deceive’.

Illicit dates back to around 1500 and comes from the Old French ‘illicite’ meaning ‘unlawful, forbidden’, which in turn comes from the Latin ‘illicitus’ meaning ‘not allowed, unlawful, illegal’.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • The word illicit refers to illegal activities. Both words begin with the letters ill.
  • Say the following sentence to yourself: ‘He elicited advice from Eleanor.’

Where can I find other posts about easy-to-confuse words?

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.

04 Sep 2017
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