Easily Confused Words: Elicit vs. Illicit

Elicit and illicit are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Elicit (pronounced “E-liss-itt”) is a verb. It means to release, to produce, to create feedback in response to stimuli.

Illicit (pronounced “ihl-iss-itt”) is an adjective. It describes something illegal, disturbing, morally objectionable, or otherwise taboo.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Elizander was asked to explain his recent deviant behavior in the principal’s office. He had punched another student and used illicit language in response to a teacher. He refused to elicit an explanation, and asked for his parents and an attorney.


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