Wordplay: allude, elude; allusion, illusion, delusion

Although some language experts dislike when the words in this entry are confused or misused, these pairs of words have a playful connection and do not hold the same intense controversy as other pairs, such as all right and alright or anxious and eager. (These words share the Latin root word ludere which means “to play.”)

Probably these sets of words are commonly confounded, as some commentators have noted, because of the closeness in sound when spoken – it’s easy to confuse the initial syllables, especially if pronounced softly or inaccurately. Because of the difference in meaning, it’s rather more a matter of understanding which word you need to use based on what you are saying, and perhaps checking to make sure that you’ve chosen the correct one since in cases involving these words, the meaning matters. Let’s look at some definitions and examples:

allude: to make indirect reference or to mention in passing:

she had a way of alluding to Jean but never saying her name (lexico.com)

elude: to evade or escape from (a danger, enemy, or pursuer), typically in a skillful or cunning way:

he managed to elude his pursuers by escaping into an alley (lexico.com)

This brings us to the other pair of words, allusion vs. illusion, which can be similarly examined, along with two other words, elusion, sometimes grouped with this pair, and delusion, sometimes confused with illusion:

allusion – an indirect reference as when a writer hints at a well-known event, person, or quotation, assuming the reader will recognize it:

a literary allusion (Everyday Writer 299)

illusion – a false or misleading appearance (Everyday Writer 299):

an optical illusion (merriam-webster.com)

elusion: the noun form of elude, means evading or escaping:

his artful elusion of the worst work assignments (merriam-webster.com)

delusion: internal, “a fixed belief, which can be either false or fanciful”:

I was under the delusion that he intended to marry me. (collinsdictionary.com).

If you find yourself hesitating over which word to use of the confusing pairs (allude vs. delude) or even the triplets (allusion vs. illusion vs. delusion), remember that though they share a root word (lude), it is the prefix that shapes its meaning and that the prefix should be pronounced to prevent confusion.

(Examples from: lexico.com on allude and elude; Everyday Writer 299; merriam-webster.com on illusion and elusion; collinsdictionary.com.)

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