al·​lu·​sion | \ ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio) \

Definition of allusion

1 : an implied or indirect reference especially in literature a poem that makes allusions to classical literature also : the use of such references
2 : the act of making an indirect reference to something : the act of alluding to something

Keep scrolling for more

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.”

What is the word origin of allusion?

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

Examples of allusion in a Sentence

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The biblical allusions bring up intriguing points of analysis: Adam and Eve, sure, in the garden with a devilish snake. Darren Franich,, "Ten years later, Lost's most tantalizing mysteries are still 'Across the Sea'," 11 May 2020 The first allusion to the environmental origins of the pandemic is a solar panel atop Weimar’s famous Goethe-Schiller Monument, connected to dozens of batteries crowding its plinth. Maria Garcia,, "Review: Zombies are the threat in the dark fairy tale ‘Endzeit — Ever After’," 25 June 2019 On his third and fourth albums, Hadreas muscled into more ambitious territory: his sound was layered, lush, shimmery and shuddering, with moments of aural sublimity underlined by allusions to decay and death. Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, "Perfume Genius Wants to Make You Feel Less Lonely," 12 May 2020 Their intergenerational exchange is smugly combative and made all the more fascinating by the obvious allusions to the real-life showrunner Mara Brock Akil, the Girlfriends and The Game creator for whom Waithe once worked. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, "Lena Waithe and When Black Artists Make Mediocre Art," 6 Mar. 2020 Same for all of those canonical allusions that seemed added mainly to inflate the artistic importance of the movie. Lee Williams | For The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, "The play’s the thing, not the movie, when it comes to ‘Shakespeare in Love’," 4 Nov. 2019 There was one allusion to the 2011 uprising: The mosque where the funeral took place is named after retired Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who headed the military council that took power after Mr. Mubarak stepped down. Declan Walsh, New York Times, "Mubarak’s Three-Decade Rule Is Brushed Aside in War-Hero Burial," 26 Feb. 2020 Shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have certainly made allusions, but only in the last few years has the subtlety washed away. Emma Grey Ellis, Wired, "Climate Change Is Netflix's Ragnarok," 31 Jan. 2020 Some personal favorites are allusions to denim skirts, raising chickens, the Amish, social awkwardness, and lack of friends. Sarah Schutte, National Review, "How Technology Is Changing Homeschooling," 7 Nov. 2019

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.

See More

First Known Use of allusion

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for allusion

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about allusion

Time Traveler for allusion

Time Traveler

The first known use of allusion was in 1542

See more words from the same year

Statistics for allusion

Last Updated

9 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Allusion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for allusion


How to pronounce allusion (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of allusion

: a statement that refers to something without mentioning it directly


al·​lu·​sion | \ ə-ˈlü-zhən How to pronounce allusion (audio) \

Kids Definition of allusion

: a statement that refers to something without mentioning it directly

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on allusion

What made you want to look up allusion? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt painting a young scholar and his tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!