grammarI don’t remember the erroneous sentence, but I well remember my embarrassment when it was pointed out to me that I had written illicit when I should have used elicit. To spare you a similar embarrassment, allow me to explain the difference between the two.

Elicit is a transitive verb meaning to draw out or bring forth. As a transitive verb, it requires a direct object. “Melanie’s antics elicited a reluctant smile from her grandmother.” Smile is the direct object of the verb elicted. Melanie’s actions drew a smile out of grandma. Knowing how most grandparents feel about their grandchildren, that probably wasn’t difficult to do.

Elicit also carries the meaning of bringing something hidden to light. “Brandon’s counseling sessions elicited his fear of failure.”  Talking confidentially to someone can be a healthy way to discover and overcome such fears.

Illicit, on the other hand, is an adjective meaning illegal or unlawful. You will often see it used to describe the illegal use of drugs or sex. also include a second meaning: “disapproved or not permitted for moral or ethical reasons.” That may explain the frequent pairing with drugs and sex.

Imagine my horror when I thought I was encouraging people to respond to something, but I was actually inviting them to do something illegal. Don’t let it happen to you.


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