elicit vs. illicit

Lesson: learning the difference between elicit and illicit

I imagine only Generations X and Y get this reference. The 1990s, those were the days.

elicit: to draw forth or bring out
—Merriam-Webster

illicit: not permitted
—Merriam-Webster

Here is yet another pair of words that sounds a lot alike but has different meanings. Let’s take a look at some examples to help us figure out the different usages.

elicit examples
Martha’s joke elicited thunderous laughter.

Martha elicits delight every time someone eats her cookies.

Danny has been unable to elicit funding for the cat shelter.

Danny elicited sympathy from the broke animal lovers.

Hint: You can see from the example sentences that elicit involves receiving (or not receiving) something, be it laughter, delight, funding, sympathy, or something else.

illicit examples
The cops arrested Harry because he had an illicit marijuana pipe in his car.

Harry told the cops the illicit drug should be allowed, and he shouted, “Legalize it!”

Fred smuggled an illicit bottle of water into the concert because the venue was selling them for five dollars.

The security guards threw Fred out of the concert because he was taking illicit photos of ladies in the bathroom.

Hint: You can see from the example sentences that illicit describes things that are against the rules.

Quiz
Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in either elicit or illicit in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. The child hid an ________ piece of candy in his pocket.
2. Randy was in tears because he did not _______ approval from the nominating committee.
3. Hank was being charged for having _______ material on his computer’s hard drive.
4. The mouse managed to _______ a howl from the cat when he startled it.

1. illicit 2. elicit 3. illicit 4. elicit

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5 thoughts on “elicit vs. illicit

  1. Serious question here, although it may sound like one. I always have troubles with “i” and “e” sounds. My wife mocks me for pronouncing “pen” and “pin” the same way. However, isn’t the “e” in “elicit” long, while the first “i” in “illicit” is short?

    I never thought these were homophones, and I spend an odd amount of time considering homophones. Have I been misguided for my entire life? (Or at least the part of it in which I’ve known these words?)

    • I’m glad you wrote. This could have something to do with the area of the country you grew up in (assuming you grew up in the United States). For example, I grew up in Ohio, and I pronounce the names “Dawn” and “Don” the same way; however, people in other parts of the country pronounce the two differently. Perhaps this is why I pronounce “elicit” and “illicit” the same way. But, now that you bring it up, it’s quite possible that this is another Dawn/Don episode where other people do pronounce them differently.

      I’ll adjust that sentence to reflect your comment, which I greatly appreciate.

      And for other readers, what do you think? Do you pronounce “elicit” and “illicit” the same way or differently?

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