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

Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web The Davis County Cooperative Society says group leaders are not involved in the day-to-day management of member businesses and never encourage fraud or other illicit activity. Bethany Rodgers, The Salt Lake Tribune, 22 May 2021 Large, for-profit companies like Colonial Pipeline are considered fair game, and the cybercriminals even claim to donate some of their illicit proceeds to charities. New York Times, 9 May 2021 Major covert movement of illicit proceeds by criminals has also exploded in recent years via trade, according to experts. Peter Stone, The New Republic, 7 May 2021 For example, a 2008 Senate investigation revealed that billions of dollars linked to illicit activity, including corruption and market manipulation, was coursing through U.S.-based shell companies. The Insider, Forbes, 19 Apr. 2021 At least one-third is related to illicit drug proceeds tied mostly to Colombian and Mexican cartels. Augusta Saraiva, USA TODAY, 18 Apr. 2021 In a study published in 2019, Mann examined nonverbal deceit, such as when someone is trying to conceal illicit activity — a type of deception relevant to detecting bombers or smugglers. Jessica Seigel, Smithsonian Magazine, 30 Mar. 2021 As global fish stocks have been depleted, many wealthier nations have increased their marine policing, often by stepping up port inspections, imposing steep fines for violations, and using satellites to spot illicit activity at sea. Ian Urbina, The New Yorker, 1 Mar. 2021 As of last week, Homeland Security investigators had seized roughly $33 million in illicit proceeds and analyzed almost 80,000 Covid-19 domain names, according to a spokeswoman for the agency. Brooke Henderson, WSJ, 23 Feb. 2021

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for illicit

Time Traveler

The first known use of illicit was in 1506

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Statistics for illicit

Last Updated

4 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Illicit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for illicit



English Language Learners Definition of illicit

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


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

Kids Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful


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)


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