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Explaining "Allude" vs. "Elude" & "Allusion" vs. "Illusion"

Ae verb "allude" and its noun from, "allusion," are both commonly confused with other words. Interestingly, however, the words that they are confused with are different. "Allude" is often confused with "elude," and "allusion" is often confused with "illusion." Each of these terms has an adjective form, leading to further confusion: "allusive," "elusive," and "illusive." Below, I explain the differences between these words and give advice for using them correctly.

Explaining "Allude" (to indirectly refer) vs. "Elude" (to avoid) & "Allusion" (indirect reference) vs. "Illusion" (misleading image or perception)

Allude vs. Elude

Allude: to refer to something indirectly Elude: to avoid or escape


When you mean to say that you are referring to something (but not directly identifying it), use "allude." Here are a couple example sentences:

Moira has often alluded to her dark past but has never described it in detail. The ads for the herbal supplement allude to its healing properties without providing proof.

On the other hand, "elude" is used to indicate avoidance or escape. It can also be used metaphorically, to indicate that a person cannot "grasp" (remember or understand) a thought or concept, as in the last of these examples:

After a long chase, the antelope finally eluded the lion. Through clever accounting, the company eluded its tax responsibilities for years. Even after Evan had attended the class for 7 weeks, the meaning of "ethics" eluded him.

A handy way to remember which word is which is that "elude" and "escape" both start with "e".


Allusion vs. Illusion

Allusion: an indirect reference Illusion: a misleading image, perception, or belief

As with "allude," the noun form "allusion" refers to an indirect reference:

The novel is full of allusions to Shakespeare's dramas; one character is even named "Juliet." Any allusion to his misdeeds should be replaced by direct references and strong evidence.

You are presumably more familiar with "illusion," as that is a common term; it can be used literally (to indicate a misleading sight) or metaphorically (to indicate a misleading view or belief):

The magician specializes in dazzling illusions such as making an entire building disappear. I am under no illusions that I will be able to get an A on this test.

I like to remember which is which based on the fact that "illusion" begins with the word "ill"; illusions are misleading, so they make me "ill."


Allusive vs. Elusive vs. Illusive

Finally, we have the adjective forms of the words discussed above. They mean what you'd expect:

Allusive: making an indirect reference Elusive: difficult to capture or grasp Illusive: based on or producing a misleading image


The same tips described for the verbs and nouns apply to these adjectives. Note that "allusive" and "illusive" are fairly rare, so you likely won't run across them much. "Illusory" is a more common word with essentially the same meaning as "illusive."


I hope this post has helped clear up the distinctions between these similar-looking (and -sounding) words. If you have any questions, please let me know. In addition, if there are any words that you often confuse, please tell me, and I will write a post about them. You can either leave a comment below or email me (info@elevationediting.com). And, of course, if you ever need any editing, you can hire me at ElevationEditing.com. Thanks for reading!

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