il·​lic·​it | \(ˌ)i(l)-ˈli-sət \

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

Protecting the public from drug abuse and addiction to opioids, licit and illicit, requires perspective. Sally Satel, WSJ, "The FDA Was Wise to Approve a New Opioid," 7 Nov. 2018 But the new viewpoint also allows for illicit and completely protected peeking around walls and corners, as can be seen in multiple video and photo examples that have been posted online since the game's launch. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Players are exploiting Black Ops 4 emotes to peek around corners," 15 Oct. 2018 No immediate crackdown is expected for the dozens of illicit-but-tolerated medical marijuana dispensaries operating in British Columbia, though officials eventually plan to close any without a license. Gene Johnson, The Seattle Times, "More than 100 pot shops set to open as Canada legalizes weed," 11 Oct. 2018 In a reply, then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency had created a task force to combat illicit and unauthorized use of the devices. Fox News, "Homeland Security finds suspected phone surveillance devices in Washington," 2 Oct. 2018 The bet is that Trump’s campaign to apply maximum economic pressure on Kim’s regime has forced him to consider what was previously unthinkable: surrendering the illicit nuclear weapons program begun by his father. Justin Sink,, "Trump’s Historic Bet on Kim Summit Shatters Decades of Orthodoxy," 9 Mar. 2018 That scenario could become reality in coming years as tools of particle physics are used to combat illicit nuclear programs. Jesse Emspak, Scientific American, "Detection of Ghostly Particles Could Unmask Illicit Nuclear Weapons," 1 May 2017 Places where illicit drug activity is occurring often leads to a higher frequency of other crimes, especially property crimes. Michael Katz, idahostatesman, "Nampa police arrest 20 people in 2 days at pair of suspected drug houses," 10 July 2018 Facebook’s efforts to stem the opioid epidemic come as part of a broader conversation about how much responsibility tech companies bear for illicit activity to take place on their platforms. Lev Facher, STAT, "Facebook to redirect users searching for opioids to federal crisis help line," 19 June 2018

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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Statistics for illicit

Last Updated

15 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for illicit

The first known use of illicit was in 1506

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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 \

Kids Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful


il·​lic·​it | \il-ˈli-sət \

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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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).


an inexhaustible supply or amount

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