Elicit vs Illicit
Once you distinguish elicit and illicit as two words, despite their very close pronunciation, understanding the difference between them is not hard. There are pairs of words in English language that are called homophones. These words sound similar but have very different meanings. Homophones have the same pronunciation as in knew and new. Elicit and illicit are considered homophones as their pronunciation is similar. Elicit and illicit is one such pair of words that has vastly different meanings though their pronunciation makes it hard for non-natives to catch the difference. Another reason for misusing elicit and illicit can arise from the fact that both have somewhat similar spelling. If you look at the two words, they both have the letters ‘–licit’ at the end. This article will highlight the differences between elicit and illicit that are not homonyms to begin with.
What does Elicit mean?
If one looks up a dictionary, he finds that elicit is a verb that means to draw out or evoke a response. For example, look at the following sentence.
The lawyer found very hard to elicit a response from the witness, who almost turned to be hostile.
Here, the word elicit is used in the sense evoke a response. Therefore, the sentence can be rewritten as ‘the lawyer found very hard to evoke a response from the witness, who almost turned to be hostile.’
What does Illicit mean?
Illicit, on the other hand, refers to things and activities that are banned or considered illegal in a particular place or country. Illicit is an adjective. For example look at the following sentence.
The judge ordered prison for the person convicted of selling illicit liquor.
Here, illicit is used in the sense of illegal. Therefore, the sentence means ‘the judge ordered prison for the person convicted of selling illegal liquor.’
Illicit is a word that is also used for relationships. A teacher, when he has sexual relations with his student is considered immoral in some countries, and the teacher is said to have illicit relationship with his student. Illicit is mostly used for activities that are illegal such as drug trafficking or trafficking of girls. As the Oxford English dictionary defines, illicit means forbidden by law, rules or custom.
Now that you have got to know what both the words, elicit and illicit, mean, let us see what word should be used in the following examples.
She had to suffer a lot in the school as her own classmates ridiculed her for her father’s elicit/illicit affair with one of his students. (In this sentence, the word illicit should be used as we are talking about something illegal. Also, see that the word that you choose should be a qualifier of the noun affair. That leaves us with the adjective illicit)
Detective Espanto uses a conversational style when questioning suspects. It helps him to elicit/illicit responses easily. (Here, the word elicit should be used as we are speaking about drawing out responses from suspects.)
Mr. Rodent was arrested for producing and distributing elicit/illicit liquor. (Here, we are speaking about someone being arrested. So, it should be illicit as it means illegal.)
What is the difference between Elicit and Illicit?
• While elicit means to extract or draw out, illicit is something contrary to the law or illegal activity.
• Illicit is an adjective, whereas elicit is a verb.
• As people make mistakes hearing them, it pays to listen carefully. Look at the following sentence to nail home the point.
“Trying to elicit a response from a person does not amount to any illicit activity” (pun intended)
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