The verbs allude and elude are homophones. “To allude” is to hint, suggest, or mention briefly. “To elude” is to escape or slip out of reach.
What is the difference between allude and elude?
“Allude” and “elude” may have similar pronunciations and origins, but these verbs have very different meanings:
- The verb allude means to suggest, hint at, or call attention to something indirectly. It’s common to find the verb in sentences followed by “to.”
- Elude is also a verb, but it means to evade or escape something in a skillful or clever fashion.
Why the differences elude us
Words like allude and elude are easy to confuse because they are homophones: two or more words that sound alike but have different meanings, spellings, or etymologies. However, these verbs are especially difficult because they both convey a sense of sneakiness or trickery. For this, we can thank the verb’s shared Latin root, ludere, meaning “to play.”
Allude → Latin allus-, alludere: ad- (‘towards’) + ludere (‘to play’)
Elude → Latin eludere: e– (‘out, away from’) + ludere (‘to play’)
Latin ludere is related to the words “delude” and “illude,” as well, so it’s no coincidence these verbs are also homophones that have similar connotations to “allude” and “elude.” For reference, the verb delude means “to make someone believe something that is not true,” while illude is a literary verb that means “to delude,” “mock,” “deceive,” or “to subject someone to an illusion.”
What is the definition of allude?
The verb allude means “to hint at,” “suggest,” “call attention to,” or “to convey an idea indirectly,” and often precedes the preposition “to” (as in “to allude to”).
- “… Police stepped up patrols and educators tightened security protocols on Friday in response to viral TikTok posts alluding to unconfirmed threats of violence…” — New Zealand Herald
- “Typically, Johnson’s outfits allude to the past via vintage-inspired silhouettes or boho embellishments.” — Vogue
- “The asymmetrical patterns he’d envisioned crisscrossed the garments in straight lines and diagonals, alluding to the imperfect grid of his city.” — The New York Times Style Magazine
“To allude to something” can also mean “to mention without discussing at length.” For this sense, the verb is synonymous with introduce, mention, or note, while similar phrasing includes “bring up,” “make reference to,” or “point out.”
- “At one point, she said, the constable sent text messages to a Kendall County commissioner that alluded to a medical condition.” — San Antonio Express-News
- “It was a game where, as AllCardinals’ Howard Balzer alluded to, the gang was once again together, just in time to save the day for Arizona.” — Sports Illustrated
Lastly, we can use “allude” to discuss something indicative of or inspired by an earlier artist or work of art. In this sense, “allude” is synonymous with evoke and echo, and similar to words like conjure, recall, and summon.
- “She alludes to the work of Vidha Saumya, who makes bold drawings (using ballpoint pens) of large and almost grotesque women.” — Mint
- “This brings us to their latest track – “river” – a harrowing tale of redemption that hinges on the pain one must endure in order to be set free, alluding to the work of influential American novelist Flannery O’Connor.” — Wonderland
Cite, hint, indicate, infer, imply, insinuate, mention, signal, suggest.
Announce, declare, describe, elucidate, explain, proclaim.
What is the definition of elude?
The verb elude primarily means “to escape from danger, pursuit, or an enemy’s attack adroitly” (in a skillful, clever, or cunning manner), or “to avoid compliance, penalty, or responsibility” (especially from the law). For this context, we use the verb similarly to phrases like “get around,” “get/run away from,” or “weasel out of.”
- “He was captured on CCTV but is still eluding cops — and the £10,000 Cabin Car vehicle has not been seen since.” — The Sun
- “The scientists said that after a few days of training, the fish were able to navigate past obstacles such as walls, while eluding efforts to trick them with false targets.” — The Seattle Times
- “The case is the latest attempt by the German government to prosecute Nazi war criminals who have eluded punishment for decades.” — The Hill
The verb elude can also reference something desirable that one failed to achieve or obtain (such as the phrase “to slip through one’s fingers”). Otherwise, the verb references an idea, feeling, or fact that one cannot seem to understand or recall.
- “An enormous owl that has eluded researchers for around 150 years has finally been photographed in the wild in Ghana.” — Newsweek
- “The Psalms are consoling, paradoxically, because they depict so unsparingly what we need consolation for and paint such a haunting picture of the hope that so often eludes us.” — The Wall Street Journal
- “I had requested the English version of Pinckney’s monologue in advance, read it through, printed it out, and consulted it occasionally… and still the meaning eludes me.” — Variety
Avert, avoid, bypass, divert, dodge, duck, escape, eschew, evade, finesse, flee, outsmart, outwit, shake.
Accept, catch, contract, court, embrace, incur, pursue, seek, welcome.
How to remember allude vs. elude?
The best way to remember the difference between allude and elude is to associate the verbs with the nouns allusion and evasion.
Elude = evasion
The verb elude has one proper noun form, elusion, which concisely means “evasion” (the act eluding).
Allude = allusion
When an expression or work of art alludes to something (such as a hinted meaning or an inspiration), we can call the alluded message an “allusion.” For example, George Orwell’s Animal Farm makes several literary allusions through pig characters reminiscent of controversial politicians from the 19th century.
If you enjoy learning about homophones like allude and elude, be sure to check out the following lessons on The Word Counter:
Test how well you understand the difference between allude and elude with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: The verbs “elude” and “allude” descend from the same root word.
- Which of the following is a synonym of “elude”?
- “Elude” and “allude” are easy to confuse because they are ____________.
d. All of the above
- Which of the following definitions does not relate to the verb “elude”?
a. To feel puzzled by something
b. To solve a puzzle
c. To escape a pursuer in a cunning way
d. To find refuge from penalty
- Which of the following definitions best relates to the verb “allude”?
a. To use cleverness and wit
b. To avoid arrest
c. To fail to understand
d. To hint at something
- Choose the sentence that uses the verb “elude” correctly.
a. “The movie promo eludes to a continuation of the Harry Potter series.”
b. “The mouse character has a certain charm that eludes to the inspiration of Tom and Jerry.”
c. “Survivors eluded the zombie-like creatures by hiding in an old house.”
d. A and B
- Consider the following sentence from The New York Times: “The dark-haired woman in “Plumb,” clothed in a faceted, crosshatch pattern that seems to allude to Jasper Johns, has a sleek, black nose that resembles carved marble.” Based on this statement, which of the following is correct?
a. The dark-haired woman alludes to someone named Jasper Johns
b. The character in “Plumb” eludes the reference of another
c. The dark-haired woman appears to be an allusion
d. A and C
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- “Allude.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaraus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
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- “TikTok posts referencing violence raise anxiety at schools.” New Zealand Herald, nzherald.co.nz, 17 Dec 2021.
Photos by As Verna and Quinton Coetzee on Unsplash.