Invoke vs. evoke?

To invoke is a call to action, the implementation of a procedure, or a plea of support from an authoritative source. ‘To evoke is to inspire a thought or reaction, such as an emotion or thought.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What is the difference between invoke and evoke?

The verbs invoke and evoke are commonly confused words with very subtle differences. Even the most practiced writers are likely to confuse “evoke” for “invoke,” although there are fewer instances when “evoke” is more appropriate to use. 

In general, we can surmise the verb’s different meanings to psychological vs. material affects: 

  • The verb evoke involves actions that elicit emotions, memories, or any subconscious information stored away.
  • The verb invoke involves actions that produce observable or material effects, such as summoning aid, authority, or causing a procedure to occur.  

The difference between the terms is further outlined by the verb’s etymology, where invoke derives from Latin invocāre (‘to call upon’), and evoke stems from Latin ēvocāre (‘to call out’). The verbs also share a common Latin root, ‘vocare’ (‘to call’), which derives from Latin vox for ‘voice.’ 

Is it “invoke spirits” or “evoke spirits”?

According to Garner’s Modern English Usage, the most common mistake for invoke vs. evoke occurs when writers substitute evoke with the following two meanings of invoke (Garner 359): 

  • ‘To call on a higher power or deity for guidance, blessings, or support.’
  • ‘To cite an authority or legitimize through an authoritative source.’ 

But while evoke can mean to invoke a spirit,’ we can assure either verb involves separate contexts:

  • To evoke is to welcome or worship a higher power through ritual, prayer, or ceremony. 
  • To invoke is to call upon a higher power to act on your behalf (generally through a form of possession). 

The trick is to realize that evoke draws upon figures or ideas that are latent or hidden while invoke summons actionable procedures or observable results. However, another way to understand these “spiritual” differences is to compare related terminology:

  • Evoke (verb) = evocation (mass noun) and evocative (adjective).
  • Invoke (verb) = invocation (mass noun).

As outlined by the Cambridge Dictionary, “evocation” is ‘the act of making someone recall a feeling or mental image,’ whether it’s through speech, prayer, or a piece of art. Meanwhile, the adjective “evocative” describes something as providing vivid thoughts, memories, and feelings to one’s mind. 

Now, let’s review a few sentences from the Review of Religious Research to help clarify the meaning of evocation and evocative with regards to “evoke:” 

  • “… religious evocation consists of activities that emphasize or enhance linkages to sacred things.” 
  • “… the rejection of sacred things (evanescence) and the affirmation of them (evocation) are not mutually exclusive processes.” 

In contrast, the word “invocation” (another mass noun) is the act of using a higher authority, such as the law, to cause or justify something or; to ask a higher power for help during a religious ritual or ceremony. 

We can clarify the meaning of invocation in regards to “invoke” through Creighton University’s explanation of communion, where pastors provide bread and wine to churchgoers during service: 

“The first invocation of the Spirit over the gifts shows, in essence, that the Church relies on the power of God to transform these gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.”

As we can see, the terms “invocation” and “invoke” require a form of non-human intervention for action, whereas “evocation” or “evoke” implies a sense of devotion that is exclusive to an individual’s spiritual connection. 

What does invoke mean?

The verb invoke (also as invoked or invoking) describes the act of implementing an action or calling upon an authority to do so. Specific definitions and examples include: 

1. To call upon a deity or higher power for their presence, support, or inspiration through prayer, spells, or incantation. 

  • “The four teenagers from The Craft recite Wiccan charms to invoke magical powers.”
  • “The pastor believes prayer can invoke the will of God to his sermon.” 

2. To cite, petition, or appeal to an authority for support of something.  

  • “The attorney warned the defendant that invoking their Fifth Amendment rights could appear suspicious to the court.” 
  • “The government invoked past U.N. resolutions to justify additional sanctions.”

3. To solicit or make an earnest request. 

  • “To enforce new regulations, the principal invoked the support of state senators.” 
  • “Minors must invoke support from their legal guardians before consenting to a search warrant.”  

4. To bring about (be the cause of), implement, or resort to action. 

  • “Scientists believe climate change invokes the increasingly hostile conditions of regional wildfires.” 
  • “The student’s academic presentation invoked praise from parents around the state.” 

5. (Computing) To cause a process to occur. 

  • “Faulty WordPress plugins invoke server errors.” 
  • “The hacking software invokes encryption rewrites for IOS users.”

Synonyms

Adduce, appeal to, beget, beseech, breed, bring about, catalyze, cause, cite, conjure, effect, elicit, engender, generate, implore, induce, kindle, petition, produce, result in, spawn, summon, supplicate, yield.

Antonyms

Arrest, control, crush, dampen, destroy, extinguish, impede, inhibit, quash, quell, restrain, repress, smother, snuff, squash, stifle, subdue, suppress, quench. 

What does evoke mean?

The verb evoke (also as evoked or evoking) means ‘to call forth’ or ‘give rise to’ a memory, emotion, fact, or image to the conscious mind. “Evoke” especially applies to mental objects that are latent, hidden, or unexpressed, and ‘drawn out’ through suggestion, reference, or association. 

Example sentences include:

  • “The dusty breeze evoked fond childhood memories.” 
  • “The photoshoot’s flashing bulbs evoked feelings of panic from past automobile accidents.” 
  • “The store’s upbeat music and bright lights evoke a false sense of identity while consuming commercial trends.”

Alternative definitions of evoke also include the act of eliciting a response, worshiping or welcoming a higher power, or creating something through one’s imagination. For example,

  • “Her tendency to lament on existential matters evokes a dull sense of dread amongst viewers.” 
  • “The artist evoked memories of the war to complete their latest exhibition.”
  • “Ayahuasca ceremonies are said to evoke outer-dimensional spirits.”

Synonyms

Arouse, bring to mind, call forth, conjure up, coax out, disclose, divulge, educe, elicit, export, extract, inspire, kindle, obtain, procure, raise, reveal, stimulate, suggest, uncloak, uncover. 

Antonyms

Disregard, forget, ignore, miss, neglect, overlook, overpass, pass over. 

How to use evoke in a sentence?

Use the verb evoke to describe the following actions: 

  • ‘To recall or produce a memory, emotion, fact, etc.’ 
  • ‘To elicit or cause a reaction from something or someone (or a higher power).’

Example sentences:

  • “Kale ‘meatballs’ evoke fond memories of Yale.” –– Yale News
  • “… the work aims to evoke the yearning to travel across the horizon to establish a new life in another place…” –– BBC News
  • “They evoke Darth Vader, but these masks may save your doctor’s life.” –– The New York Times

How to use invoke in a sentence?

Use the meaning of invoke for the following actions or circumstances: 

  • ‘To call on a higher power or deity for guidance, blessings, or support.’
  • ‘To summon or conjure by prayer or incantation.’ 
  • ‘To cite an authority or legitimize through an authoritative source.’ 
  • ‘To solicit the aid of power or authority.’ 
  • ‘To implement or put something into effect.’ 

Example sentences:

  • “As the U.K. grapples with Pandemic, some British leaders invoke the spirit of WWII.” –– NPR 
  • “Can Guiliani invoke attorney-client privilege to avoid congressional testimony?” –– The Washington Post
  • “Facing eviction? Here’s how to invoke the CDC’s moratorium.” –– Mississippi Today
  • “Kitzhaber invokes conflagration act as wildfire threatens homes.” –– The Oregonian 

Test Yourself!: evoke vs. invoke

Are you ready to kick your writing style up a notch with words like evoke and invoke? See how well you understand these tricky terms with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. The verb ___________ describes actions that elicit emotions, memories, or subconscious information. 
    a. Invoke
    b. Elicit
    c. Evoke
    d. Invocate 
  2. The verb ___________ describes actions that elicit observable or material effects. 
    a. Invoke
    b. Elicit
    c. Evoke
    d. Evocation
  3. The words “evoke” and “invoke” share the root word of ___________.  
    a. Vox
    b. Vocare
    c. Voke
    d. Vocale
  4. Choose the correct term for the sentence: “I would like to ___________ my Fifth Amendment rights of the United States constitution.” 
    a. Evoke
    b. Invocation
    c. Invoke
    d. Evocate
  5. The words “evoke” and “invoke” are ___________.
    a. Adverbs
    b. Collective nouns 
    c. Verbs
    d. Mass nouns

Answers

  1. C
  2. A
  3. B
  4. C
  5. C

Sources

  1. Bartkowski, J.P. “Finding the Sacred in Unexpected Places: Religious Evanescence and Evocation.” Review of Religious Research, vol. 56, no. 3, 2014, pp. 357-371, JSTOR, 2020.
  2. Epiclesis – the Invocation of the Holy Spirit.” Eucharistic Prayer II, Creighton University, n.d. 
  3. Evocation.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  4. Evocative.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  5. Evoke.”The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  6. “Evoke; invoke.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 359.
  7. Evoke.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  8. Evoke.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  9. Harper, D. “Evoke (v.).” Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020. 
  10. Invocation.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  11. Invoke.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  12. Invoke.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  13. Invoke.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  14. Plymouth £47m arts and heritage complex unveiled.” BBC News, 22 Sept 2020.