al·​lu·​sion ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio)
: an implied or indirect reference especially in literature
a poem that makes allusions to classical literature
also : the use of such references
: the act of making an indirect reference to something : the act of alluding to something

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What is the word origin of allusion?

Allusion was borrowed into English in the 16th century. It derives from the Latin verb alludere, meaning "to play with," "to jest," or "to refer to," as does its cousin allude, meaning "to make indirect reference" or "to refer." Alludere, in turn, derives from a combination of the prefix ad- ("to or toward") and ludere ("to play"). Ludere is a Latin word that English speakers have enjoyed playing with over the years, creating collude, delude, elude, and prelude, just to name a few.

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Allusion and Illusion

Allusion and illusion may share some portion of their ancestry (both words come in part from the Latin word ludere, meaning “to play”), and sound quite similar, but they are distinct words with very different meanings. An allusion is an indirect reference, whereas an illusion is something that is unreal or incorrect. Each of the nouns has a related verb form: allude “to refer indirectly to,” and illude (not a very common word), which may mean “to delude or deceive” or “to subject to an illusion.”

Example Sentences

There are lots of literary echoes and allusions in the novel, but they don't do anything for the tired texture of the prose. Tony Tanner, New York Times Book Review, 6 Apr. 1997 So while the former engineering professor with an IQ reportedly tipping 180 enjoys bombarding his staff with math wizardry, scientific jargon and computerese, he also drops frequent allusions to his baseball card and stamp collections … Maureen Dowd, New York Times Magazine, 16 Sept. 1990 To my ear this is a beautiful reenactment of the prose of the antebellum South, with its careful grammar, its stately cadences, and its classical allusions and quotations. Cleanth Brooks, The Language of the American South, 1985 The lyrics contain biblical allusions. She made allusion to her first marriage.
Recent Examples on the Web However, those lyrics could be seen as an allusion to Styles, too. Alyssa Bailey, ELLE, 21 Oct. 2022 As for the allusion to different types of flowers, carnations are some of the most affordable floral arrangements money can buy whereas roses are typically a higher-end bouquet that is commonly thought to represent love. Samantha Olson, Seventeen, 21 Oct. 2022 That appeared to be an allusion to the brutal treatment of the protesters by the security forces. Farnaz Fassihi And Cora Engelbrecht,, 30 Sep. 2022 In an allusion to its brief life span, Aristotle dubbed the insect ephemeron. Robert O'harrow Jr., Washington Post, 19 Sep. 2022 This is where Tan’s stylistic allusion becomes a meta-reference, life at the time of conflict. Stephan Rabimov, Forbes, 25 Aug. 2022 Nearly everything here is designed to evoke a fond remembrance of specific bands and sounds from the 1970s — give or take a late ’60s or early ’80s allusion. Chris Willman, Variety, 18 Aug. 2022 Classical allusion might seem like a curious way to write about modern domestic strife. A. E. Stallings, The Atlantic, 12 June 2022 Meloni’s allusion to security in Italian cities is a right-wing theme in this election campaign, which also hits at immigration. Colleen Barry, ajc, 22 Aug. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'allusion.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Late Latin allusion-, allusio, from Latin alludere — see allude

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of allusion was in 1542


Dictionary Entries Near allusion

Cite this Entry

“Allusion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



al·​lu·​sion ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio)
: a reference made to something that is not directly mentioned
the book contains many allusions to earlier books
allusive adjective
allusively adverb
allusiveness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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