Allude verses elude

allude: to make indirect reference
Merriam-Webster

elude: 1) to avoid adroitly; evade 2) to escape the understanding, perception, or grasp of
Merriam-Webster

Here are two words that give people troubles. They look similar. They sound similar. But they have very different meanings. Let’s look at some examples to help us understand the definitions.

Examples of allude:

Nancy alluded that something was wrong, but she didn’t give an exact reason.
As the boss alluded in last week’s email, we’re all getting fired.

When you use allude, you are saying that someone is hinting at a topic, but they don’t give specifics about it. For instance, with the second example, the boss could have said in last week’s email that “Changes are coming,” or “The department will be reorganized,” or some similar business speak, but she didn’t say in the email that everyone would get fired.

Examples of elude (first meaning):

The fly eluded the Venus Flytrap.
After a car chase, the robber eluded the police.

This meaning of elude means to avoid or escape from an obstacle (the Venus Flytrap in example one and the police in example two). However, the second meaning of elude is more abstract.

Examples of elude (second meaning):

Richard tried to understand the theory of relativity, but the concept eluded him.
The meaning of the word “no” eludes her.

Basically, you use this meaning of elude when you want to convey that someone doesn’t understand something (the theory of relativity in example one and the meaning of the word “no” in example two).

Quiz
Are you an allude/elude expert yet? Test your knowledge with this quiz. The answers are at the bottom.

1. The beauty of operas ______s George.
2. Dennis _______d to being sick, but he never said he had leprosy.
3. The new concept _______d George, and he failed the test.
4. Dennis managed to _______ disaster when he called off the wedding.
5. George _______d to his secret plans.
6. George was able to _______ the muggers by running really fast.

1. eludes (second meaning) 2. alluded 3. eluded (second meaning) 4. elude (first meaning) 5. alluded 6. elude (first meaning)

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3 thoughts on “Allude verses elude

  1. I’m good with this one. In fact, I can’t believe people have problems with these not-so-similar. I get the problems with ‘imply/infer” (although there’s an old Dennis Quaid movie–maybe it’s ‘the Big Easy’–which explains those two more beautifully and succinctly than any English teacher ever did), and to a much lesser extent the “effect/affect” issue, but some things people supposedly have trouble with blow my mind.

    I get problems with Which and That, however. Like baseball’s infield fly rule, the stipulations for their use are byzantine and incomprehensible.

  2. I actually almost wrote about imply/infer today. I decided not to when I read the usage discussion on the MW site: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infer

    It seems like there is a bit of a controversy about whether these words actually are still different. But, since I am a pedant, I maintain that there is a difference. Maybe I will cover that topic after all and include a note about this controversy.

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