Professional Style

Elicit vs. Illicit

July 2013
Spot the Error

The prosecuting attorney tried in vain to illicit an incriminating response from the witness.

The problem with this sentence? … it sounds way too much like Law and Order. Add a “herein” and a “party of the first part” and my head clouds over with legalese (which everyone knows is not English). Nonetheless, a true lawyer (not an actor playing a lawyer on TV) would know the difference between illicit and elicit.

  • Illicit – illegal; wrongful (The DARE program educates middle-schoolers about the dangers of illicit drug usage.
  • Elicit – draw out; bring forth (The comedian was pleased that he could elicit laughter from the audience.)

In the “witness” sentence above, the lawyer is trying to draw out an incriminating response; therefore, the appropriate word is elicit.

If you have trouble distinguishing between these two words, just remember that the synonyms illicit and illegal both begin with I-L-L.

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