"Elicit" Or "Illicit"?

Although elicit and illicit are both pronounced and spelled similarly, they have different meanings and origins. Both words ultimately derive from Latin: illicit comes from the verb licere meaning ‘allowed’, and elicit comes from the verb elicere meaning ‘entice or deceive’.

Illicit is an adjective, with two meanings. The first is ‘not allowed by laws or rules’, as in:

The UN estimated that the illicit drug trade is worth billions every year.

The second is ‘going against moral standards; unaccepted or not approved of by society’, as in:

Suspecting that his wife was having an illicit affair, he warned her to stop.

Elicit is a verb, with two meanings. The first is ‘to manage to get information from someone’ as in:

The hearing elicited some revealing testimony from the chairman’s colleagues.

The second is ‘to cause or draw out a particular reaction’, as in:

Most of the humour is more miss than hit, though there are moments that elicit a chuckle.


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