Simple Definition of illicit
: not allowed by law : unlawful or illegal
: involving activities that are not considered morally acceptable
Full Definition of illicit
: not permitted : unlawful
Examples of illicit in a sentence
The wedding is mounted in traditional Punjabi style, but underneath the formal fanfare simmer dysfunctional-family tensions, deep dark secrets, … and illicit affairs. —David Ansen, Newsweek, 4 Mar. 2002
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” she said, bowing her head, just as she might in everyday, civilian life, and I felt suddenly illicit in her presence, as though we'd slipped out of sight of our chaperons … —Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life, 1999
The companies that carry cellular … have adopted a number of monitoring techniques to detect illicit calls … —Paul Wallich, Scientific American, March 1994
He was arrested for selling illicit copies of the software.
She had an illicit affair with her boss.
Illicit and elicit
Illicit, while not exactly an everyday word, is far more common than its antonym, licit ("not forbidden by law, permissible"). Perhaps this is a function of our oft-noted fascination with bad behavior and boredom with rectitude. In any case, illicit may be used of behavior that is either unlawful or immoral. These categories frequently overlap, but they are not always synonymous, as some unlawful activities (illicit cigarette smoking) may not be considered immoral, while some immoral activities (an illicit affair) are not illegal. Illicit is occasionally confused with elicit because of the similarity in their pronunciations, but the two words have decidedly different meanings and functions: in contemporary English, elicit is a verb meaning "to get (a response, information, etc.) from someone," while illicit appears solely as an adjective.
Origin of illicit
Latin illicitus, from in- + licitus lawful — more at licit
First Known Use: 1506
ILLICIT Defined for Kids
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up illicit? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).