illicit

adjective
il·​lic·​it | \ (ˌ)i(l)-ˈli-sət How to pronounce illicit (audio) \

Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from illicit

illicitly adverb

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.

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The porous border region of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay is a center point of money laundering, false documents, terrorism financing, and other illicit activities. Abraham Mahshie, Washington Examiner, "EXCLUSIVE: Southern Command rebuilds intelligence relationship with Brazil years after Snowden damage," 4 July 2020 Law enforcement says that criminals used EncroChat as an illicit marketplace for hawking weapons and coordinating drug sales around the world. Lily Hay Newman, Wired, "Security News This Week: The Encryption-Busting EARN IT Act Advances in the Senate," 4 July 2020 Removed from all mainstream outlets, cigarettes have become the most sought after illicit drug in South Africa, more profitable than cocaine and heroin, some analysts say. Washington Post, "Ban gives tobacco illegal drug status in South Africa," 2 July 2020 At security screening, along with outside food and illicit toiletries, staff confiscate anything with a camera. Laura Stark, The New Republic, "The Hidden Racism of Vaccine Testing," 29 June 2020 As a fiendish terrorist-thief hunting down an illicit $100 million payday in the high-altitude, high-octane thriller, Lithgow matched both wits and blows with Sylvester Stallone. Dan Snierson, EW.com, "John Lithgow reveals the roles that fans most recognize him for," 28 June 2020 Many illicit narcotics come sealed in things like statues, picture frames and engine blocks. Sarah Haselhorst, The Enquirer, "Synthetic drugs, controlled substances seizure was the largest in Cincinnati history," 27 June 2020 The fine, which covers shortcomings between 2012 and 2017, is the latest example of a large European bank struggling to put in place measures to stop illicit funds. Donal Griffin, Bloomberg.com, "Commerzbank Fined $47 Million for Anti-Money-Laundering Failures," 21 June 2020 The report documented the mullah regime’s illicit activities during the year 2019. Fox News, "German intel report lays bare Iran's attempts to obtain nuclear proliferation technology," 16 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'illicit.' 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 illicit

1506, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for illicit

Latin illicitus, from in- + licitus lawful — more at licit

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about illicit

Time Traveler for illicit

Time Traveler

The first known use of illicit was in 1506

See more words from the same year

Statistics for illicit

Last Updated

9 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Illicit.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/illicit. Accessed 11 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for illicit

illicit

adjective
How to pronounce illicit (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of illicit

: not allowed by law : unlawful or illegal
: involving activities that are not considered morally acceptable

illicit

adjective
il·​lic·​it | \ i-ˈli-sət How to pronounce illicit (audio) \

Kids Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful

illicit

adjective
il·​lic·​it | \ il-ˈli-sət How to pronounce illicit (audio) \

Legal Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful an illicit motive to defeat or evade the taxesIn re Haas, 48 F.3d 1153 (1995)

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on illicit

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for illicit

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with illicit

Spanish Central: Translation of illicit

Nglish: Translation of illicit for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of illicit for Arabic Speakers

Comments on illicit

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

WORD OF THE DAY

See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Add Diction

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

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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