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

Definition of illicit

: not permitted : unlawful

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Crime gangs often look to steal products from stores that can easily and quickly be resold on online marketplaces such as Amazon and through other illicit markets. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, 30 July 2022 But in the spirit of the sordid ‘80s, illicit substances were discovered during the stop and the man in question ended up behind bars, with the hot rod Hammer getting seized by the DEA. Basem Wasef, Robb Report, 29 July 2022 The anger of some herders doesn’t stop at the illicit poisoning of snow leopards. Ben Ayers, Outside Online, 27 July 2022 People accrued wealth and power from illicit resource extraction. Washington Post, 27 July 2022 The plan went off with a hitch — that hitch being Jeff knocking himself out for a minute after slipping on the freshly shined floor — but illicit victory was ultimately achieved. Dan Snierson,, 26 July 2022 This strategy will also help reveal any vulnerabilities, such as sellers offering illicit products through your platform. Ariel Katz, Forbes, 25 July 2022 The report notes that targeting users of illicit substances is easier, but the action often results in only negative consequences to the person arrested. Gary Warth, San Diego Union-Tribune, 25 July 2022 The earliest apps, popping up mostly from anonymous sources, were mostly perceived as too dangerous and illicit to gain widespread appeal. Justin E. H. Smith, Wired, 25 July 2022 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near illicit



illicit process

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Statistics for illicit

Last Updated

3 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Illicit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for illicit


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)

More from Merriam-Webster on illicit

Nglish: Translation of illicit for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of illicit for Arabic Speakers


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