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Don’t Let the Difference Between “Elusive” and “Illusive” Elude You

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“Elusive” and “illusive” are homophones, but recognizing when to use them is easy once you thoroughly understand their definitions.

Don’t Let the Difference Between “Elusive” and “Illusive” Elude You
Do you know what “elusive” and “illusive” mean?
What’s the Difference Between “Elusive” and “Illusive”?

  • Elusive is an adjective that means “difficult to find or capture.” Illusive is an adjective that describes something as “deceptive.”
    • The elusive cat was nearly impossible to catch, but we ended up luring her with a treat.
      When driving on a hot day, I always try to catch up to the illusive shimmer on the road, but I know it’s not possible.


Is It “Elusive” or “Illusive”?

Anyone with a cat or dog may be familiar with using a laser pointer to keep them entertained. They try with all their might to catch the elusive red dot, but just can’t. That’s because the dot is also illusive.

Things that are difficult (or impossible) to reach, can sometimes be described as both elusive and illusive, but don’t be fooled; these words don’t mean the same thing. We’ll elaborate on the difference between these two homophones below.


“Elusive”– Definition and Examples

Elusive is an adjective, meaning it’s used to describe nouns. When something is elusive, that means it’s hard to find or capture.

The elusive snow leopard was caught on camera.
Some insects are elusive and can’t be caught by the geckos.

If a goal, assignment, or anything else is difficult to achieve or reach, it can also be described as elusive.

The goal of finding an effective solution to poverty appears to be elusive.
We had to double our sales by the end of the quarter. It seemed like an elusive goal, but we achieved it.

A concept like love can be considered elusive, not just because it can be hard to find for some people, but also because it can be hard to define.

The elusive concept of love could not be defined by my third-grade class, but the fifth-graders did a good job of defining it.

If you’re familiar with the verb elude, which means “to quickly avoid or escape” or “failed to be understood by someone,” it can help you when remembering what the word elusive means.


“Illusive”– Definition and Examples

Illusive is also an adjective. But if something is illusive, it means it looks real, even though it’s not. In other words, it’s deceptive. Think of the word illusion when using this word.

Some say that the concept of pure freedom is an illusive one.
The magician performed one illusive act after the other.
We experienced an illusive sense of total silence.
Elusive vs illusive: Do you understand the difference? (Photo ID: Female magician with a rabbit in a top hat.)
Magicians perform many illusive acts, like seemingly pulling a rabbit out of a hat. 

Don’t Let Exceptional Writing Elude You

Your poor cat or dog can try and try to catch the elusive red dot, but will never be able to catch it. Not just because you move it every time he gets close to it, but because the red dot doesn’t have a material form. It’s not really there on the wall, or on the floor, or on the couch— it’s illusive.

Illusive is not used as often as elusive is. If you’re deciding on which one to use, chances are you want elusive. But, if you want to be certain, keep this in mind:

  • If it eludes you, it’s elusive. If it’s a sort of illusion, it’s illusive.

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