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Using Allude vs Elude

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The words 'allude' and 'elude' often confuse people, both because they sound alike and refer to actions. This lesson will explain the different actions each word refers to and how to tell them apart.

Elusive Homonyms

I'm trying to elude the police. Or am I trying to allude them?

'Elude' and 'allude' present a classic homonym problem. They are homonyms because they sound alike when spoken out loud. They are even more confusing than many pairs of homonyms because they don't only sound alike, but do the same job in a sentence. They are both verbs, or action words. However, the actions they refer to are completely different, so mistaking one for the other can cause a lot of confusion.

How to Allude

'Allude' has a few different definitions that all mean 'to make reference to something else'. Probably its most common meaning is 'to suggest or indirectly call attention to something'. You make reference to something, but don't do so directly. Here are a few examples of that:

  • The prosecutor alluded to the defendant's criminal past, but was not allowed to talk about it directly.
  • Mom keeps alluding to us getting a puppy for Christmas, but won't tell us for sure.

'Allude' can also mean to refer to something briefly, but not spend a lot of time discussing it:

  • Since we went into detail about the construction plans at our last meeting, I will just briefly allude to them now.
  • John briefly alluded to his plans for summer, but didn't elaborate on them.

Its final meaning refers to a reference in a work of art or literature to an earlier piece:

  • Many works of art and literature allude to the plays of Shakespeare.
  • Picasso's paintings often allude to African folk art.

Many works of art and literature allude to the plays of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare

How to Elude

'Elude' also has a few different specific meanings, though they all relate to the idea of getting away. In its most common usage, it means to escape capture or danger:

  • The bank robbers eluded the police by wearing disguises and switching cars.
  • I managed to elude the bear by hiding under a tree stump.

It can also refer to the failure to grasp an idea or concept:

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