You can allude to something, you can elude from someone, but you can’t mistake these similar sounding words for each other because they have very different meanings. You can’t allude from the debt collector when you’re broke because it doesn’t make much sense (unless you’re trying to explain to someone why you’ve no money without being direct), and you can’t elude to an embarrassing memory in the past because one cannot possibly evade a memory.
It’s normal for non-fluent English speakers, ESL students, and even native English speakers to confuse the words with each other as they’re two of the more uncommon words not used in everyday conversation. But unlike homonyms, these two sound similar, but they do not sound exactly the same nor have the same spelling, so people can easily notice if you’re using the wrong word whether if used while speaking or writing. So, which is which? We’ll tell you in this article of our Grammar Corner series.
Allude vs. Elude
They do, however, sound similar save for one vowel sound that some people get wrong. Plus, not a lot of people use these words in everyday conversation, so plenty of people aren’t familiar with the definition. So, it’s common for some people to get the definition of both words wrong.
“Allude” is a verb which means to subtly hint or draw attention to. Its noun form, allusion, is a figure of speech in which someone mentions an object, person, or event without directly stating it. The listener or reader, therefore has to be able to make the connection.
When you or someone alludes to something, you are trying to be subtle and imply something without being very direct about it. For example, let’s say you’re having a family reunion dinner in your home and your mother alludes to your aunt’s tendency to hog the macaroni salad by saying “I’ve made extra macaroni salad just Aunt Karen. You know how much she loves it.” Or when you’re playing Uno with your friends and your closest friend sets you back a few more cards, you can say “Thanks, Judas,” and that would be you alluding to the fact that they are a traitor.
When one alludes, they are being coy, tactful, or sly. Usually, for one to successfully perform an allusion in conversation, they should know whether or not the people listening or reading the allusion would understand the context.
When you’re trying to describe someone who is alluding, you are saying this person is hinting at a message rather than saying it outright. You can say, for example, that an author known for their political activism wrote a novel that alludes to themes of communism even though the novel doesn’t blatantly talk about politics or the government.
The word “elude” is also a verb, but it has a very different meaning. To elude is to avoid in a skillful or cunning way without detection from the person or thing you’re trying to avoid. It also means to fail to reach a certain achievement, which may or may not be due to one’s own fault.
The word can be used in everyday context. For example, when an insomniac claims that sleep “eludes” them, it metaphorically means they cannot fall asleep. Or when an athlete fails to win a gold medal in the Olympics on their third try, one could say that the award “eluded” the athlete since the athlete failed to take the medal for themselves.
However, elude often has some shady or criminal connotations. After all, why would you be trying to elude someone unless you have a reason to hide? It’s often used to describe burglars and criminals evading capture and arrest by “eluding” from police officers. And it’s not just to physically run: a business owner who refuses to pay his employees can be “eluding” the law because he is not complying with the law.
Allude or Elude?
Based on the definitions mentioned above, you can see how different the definitions between the two are. Allude hints, while elude hides. You can say that you are alluding to the law if you are wearing a police hat and carrying a gavel for some reason (maybe as a costume, perhaps, or for a play?), but if you say that you are eluding from the law, it means you probably did a crime and would rather not face the fines or consequences of your actions.
So that it’s easier for you to remember, try this: Allude Adverts, but Elude Evades. To “allude” is to turn your attention to something, but in a subtle way. And to “elude” is to escape, either from a person or a circumstance that you’d rather not deal with.