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Difference between elicit or illicit

elicit or illicit

In the exploration of the English language, two terms that often cause confusion due to their similar spelling but vastly different meanings are elicit and illicit. This article aims to demystify these terms, providing a clear understanding of their distinctions, origins, and usage. By delving into their grammatical facts, origins, and practical applications, readers will gain a comprehensive insight into how these terms function within the English lexicon.

Quick Facts Table

Part of SpeechVerbAdjective
DefinitionTo draw out or bring forthForbidden by law, rules, or custom
OriginLate 16th centuryMid-17th century

Difference Between Elicit and Illicit

Definition of Elicit

Elicit is a verb that means to draw out or bring forth something, usually information or a response, from someone or something. It involves the process of getting to the heart of the matter or uncovering something not immediately obvious.

Definition of Illicit

Illicit, on the other hand, is an adjective describing something that is forbidden by law, rules, or custom. It pertains to actions or activities that are illegal or not permitted within the societal or regulatory framework.

Origin of Elicit

The term elicit originates from the late 16th century, deriving from the Latin word ‘elicitus’ which means ‘drawn out’ by implication or reasoning.

Origin of Illicit

Illicit comes from the mid-17th century, rooted in the Latin word ‘illicitus’, meaning ‘not allowed‘ or ‘unlawful’, highlighting its association with things that are prohibited.


Both words are pronounced similarly, /ɪˈlɪsɪt/, but their usage in language is distinctively different, reflective of their respective meanings.

Comparing Elicit and Illicit

When comparing elicit and illicit, it’s crucial to understand one is a verb that involves an action to obtain something, while the other is an adjective that describes the nature of something as being illegal or forbidden. Their primary difference lies in their grammatical role and the context in which they are used.

Comparison Table

NatureAction-oriented (verb)Descriptive (adjective)
Usage ContextGathering information or responsesDescribing the legality of actions
ConnotationNeutral, involving processNegative, involving morality/legal issues

Usage in Sentences with Explanations

Use of Elicit in Sentences

  1. The journalist hoped to elicit honest responses from the interviewee by asking open-ended questions.
    • Here, elicit is used to describe the act of drawing out answers through questioning.
  2. The teacher’s unique method of teaching was able to elicit enthusiasm from even the most disinterested students.
    • Indicates drawing out a reaction that was not initially visible.
  3. A smile can often elicit a similar response from those around you.
    • Demonstrates the effect of one action prompting a similar reaction.
  4. The attorney aimed to elicit vital information during the cross-examination.
    • Shows the process of extracting specific details for a purpose.
  5. To elicit the root cause of the problem, the team conducted several analyses.
    • Elicit is used in the context of uncovering or discovering something hidden.

Use of Illicit in Sentences

  1. The company was fined for its involvement in illicit activities that violated environmental laws.
    • Describes activities that are illegal or prohibited by law.
  2. There was a crackdown on illicit drug trafficking in the region.
    • Illicit here refers to the illegal trade of drugs.
  3. Illicit software downloads contribute to significant losses in the entertainment industry.
    • Highlights the unlawful nature of the action.
  4. The novel explores the consequences of an illicit affair on a family.
    • Used to describe an action (affair) that is morally or socially forbidden.
  5. Authorities are investigating an illicit gambling ring operating within the city.
    • Illicit characterizes the gambling operation as illegal.


Understanding the difference between elicit and illicit hinges on recognizing elicit as a verb that means to draw out or bring forth, and illicit as an adjective describing something as illegal or not permitted. This distinction not only clarifies their meanings but also aids in their correct application within language, ensuring effective and precise communication.

Commonly Asked Questions

  • What is the main grammatical difference between elicit and illicit?
    • Elicit is a verb, while illicit is an adjective.
  • Can you use elicit and illicit interchangeably?
    • No, because they have different meanings and grammatical functions.
  • How can I remember the difference between elicit and illicit?
    • Associate elicit with the action of drawing out (similar to “extract”) and illicit with illegal activities.
  • Are there any synonyms for elicit?
    • Yes, synonyms include extract, obtain, and draw out.
  • What are some synonyms for illicit?
    • Unlawful, illegal, and prohibited are synonyms for illicit.
Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith, writer at, blends creativity with insight, exploring technology, culture, and psychology. With a background in English Literature, she crafts engaging stories inspired by nature and urban life. Outside writing, she enjoys exploring and continuous learning.View Author posts

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