green_grrl (green_grrl) wrote in fandom_grammar,

Question: illicit versus elicit

Today we're going to talk about two near-homophones (two words that sound almost alike, so are often confused and used incorrectly in place of each other), illicit and elicit. Chances are you've run across the illicit use of elicit in your reading! 

Who better to help us with these two than our friends at Hawaii Five-0?

Illicit is an adjective with two meanings:

1. not legally permitted or authorized; unlicensed; unlawful.
Danny read the name on the prescription bottle he'd pulled from the suspect's pocket. "Well, since I very much doubt, Frederick, that your doctor calls you Maria, we're looking at illicit use of prescription drugs to start with."  
2. disapproved of or not permitted for moral or ethical reasons.
Kono pulled up the hotel camera footage of a couple kissing in the hallway before entering their room. "How about an illicit affair with his secretary for a motive?"
The word comes from the Latin in meaning "not" and licitus meaning "lawful" or "to be allowed." Similarly, illegal is also Latin, from in and legalis derived from lex for "law." 

Elicit is a verb that means:

to draw or bring out or forth; educe; evoke.
Chin watched the husband closely to see if Steve's report of what happened to his wife elicited a response.
This word also comes from Latin roots, from ex meaning "out" or "forth" and -licere, the combination form of lacere, "to entice." Similarly, evoke is from the Latin ex plus vocare, "to call."

Fortunately, the fact that both these words have synonyms with similar roots makes remembering which is which much easier. If your situation involves something illegal (or something a spouse or minister would wish to be illegal), illicit is the word you want. If your character is trying to evoke a response, then elicit is the word to use. 

Definitions from

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