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

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 The Mexican governor recognized that criminal organizations are conducting illicit activities in the border state, including human trafficking and drug smuggling. Houston Chronicle, "New Binational campaign targets criminal groups on Texas-Mexico border," 8 June 2018 Drug abuse, addiction, overdose, and crime caused by Defendant's illicit activities have imposed, and will continue to impose, tremendous social and economic costs on Plaintiffs. Bill Myers, Chicago Reader, "Suburban opioid pill mill devastated our communities, leaders of ten Illinois towns say in lawsuit," 23 May 2018 Still, the list of suspects is short, and some nation needs to find and snuff out the illicit industrial activity within its borders in order to hold up its end of the Montreal Protocol. Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica, "It seems someone is producing a banned ozone-depleting chemical again," 16 May 2018 But even if such data were available, Siriwat notes that the magnitude of the illicit rosewood trade now vastly overwhelms the resources allocated to stopping it. Rachel Nuwer, Scientific American, "Tracing Thailand’s Illegal Rosewood Trade," 15 Mar. 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

1 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).


to express warning or disapproval

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