Word Confusion: Allusive vs Delusive vs Elusive vs Illusive

Posted April 8, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 1 July 2017

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It’s an elusive concept, one that is difficult to capture as it is simply too easy to imagine a similarity between an idea that eludes or escapes with another idea that is simply an illusion of another.

For some reason, when I think of elude, I always think of the Scarlet Pimpernel, for they seek him here, they seek him there, that demned elusive Pimpernel!

As for the illusive, it’s always the ghosties for me. Sure, being illusive is a false idea or belief, a deception if you will. And I will always think first of a ghost as a representation of a person, but it will never be the flesh-and-blood man or woman, so it is illusive. A false promise of what had been.

Note: Delusive was added 30 November 2016 and is more of a purposeful lie, as opposed to the illusive which is more literary, poetic, in its lies.

Note: Allusive was added 1 July 2017 and can be quite subtle in its references to, well, anything.

You may also want to explore the post, “Allusion vs Delusion vs Illusion“.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Allusive Delusive Elusive Illusive
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: delusive, elusive, illusive

A line two bricks wide set in pavement in a silent memorial to the Berlin Wall

“Tracing the Berlin Wall” by Colocho, Germany, is under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license, via Wikimedia Commons

A brick line is an allusive reference to where the Berlin Wall once stood.

Colorized version of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Seal

“U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Seal” is by the U.S. Government and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Use of such a seal to indicate approval by the U.S. government is delusive and can lead to prosecution.

“Osama bin Laden Portrait” by Abdul Rahman bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, took the photo and released it to Hamid Mir, a Pakistani news reporter with Canada Free Press at the time under the CC-BY-SA-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

The elusive Bin Laden was finally stopped by the West.

“Poster of Dorian Gray”, the 2009 movie, is courtesy of Rosariomario

Dorian Gray sought the illusive glamour of youth.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Adjective Adjective Adjective
[Of a remark or reference] Working by suggestion rather than explicit mention

  • Hint around without ever directly referring to it

Having reference to something implied or inferred

  • Containing, abounding in, or characterized by an indirect or passing reference

[Obsolete] Metaphorical

  • Symbolic
  • Figurative
Giving a false or misleading impression

  • Tending to delude
  • Misleading
  • Deceptive

Of the nature of a delusion

  • False
  • Unreal
Difficult to find, catch, or achieve

Difficult to remember or recall

Preferring or living in solitude and anonymity

Failing to allow for or accommodate a clear perception or complete mental grasp

  • Hard to express or define

Cleverly or skillfully evasive

[Chiefly poetic, literary] Deceptive, not real
The jerk made some allusive references to my body.

Samuel Hesed, Geoffrey Hill, and T.S. Eliot are highly allusive poets.

I’m tired of his allusive speech. He should just say what he means.

Ms. Jones’ delicately allusive poetry causes one to feel the joy of that first glorious love.

It was a delusive reply.

Ah, the delusive light of Venice.

He harbored a most delusive belief.

Carrying a gun can be a delusive security.

Success only became more elusive.

‘Twas an elusive thought I’m chasing.

She was quite an elusive thief.

I simply cannot grasp so elusive a concept.

Old Joe was a fish too elusive to catch.

The no-kill shelter was hoping that elusive donors would finally contribute.

That illusive haven where no ills lie.

It is an illusive beauty.

Marilyn Monroe had that illusive it factor.

The 2016 presidential campaign was littered with illusive inaccuracies.

Adjective: allusory, unallusive
Adverb: allusively, unallusively
Noun: allusiveness, unallusiveness
Adjective: delusory, nondelusive, undelusive
Adverb: delusively, undelusively
Noun: delusion, delusiveness
Verb, transitive: delude
Adjective: elusory, nonelusive
Adverb: elusively, nonelusively
Noun: elusion, elusiveness, nonelusiveness
Verb, transitive: elude
Adjective: illusory, nonillusive
Adverb: illusively, nonillusively
Noun: illusion, illusiveness, nonillusiveness
Verb, transitive: illude
History of the Word:
Mid-16th century denoting a pun, metaphor, or parable from the French or from the late Latin allus(ion-) + -ive, from the verb alludere. Late Middle English in the sense of act of deluding or of being deluded is from the late Latin delus(ion) + -ive, from the verb deludere. Early 18th century from the Latin elus- meaning eluded. Early 17h century from the medieval Latin illusivus.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

The original photo, “Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2010“, is by LeNair Xavier and was cropped and brightened by deerstop under the CC BY 2.0 license, “Heath Ledger” by Howie Berlin (Flickr) is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, and “Owen Wilson in Cannes 2011” by Georges Biard is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; all three are via Wikimedia Commons. Sarcasticool’s post, “Actor Allusion: My 10 Favourite Examples!, is via Hub Pages.