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

That was in part down to their mastery of a revolutionary defensive system in which defenders marked the opposing attackers closely; in part down to financial muscle; and, almost certainly, in part down to the illicit influencing of referees. 1843, "A league of their own: how English clubs conquered Europe," 7 June 2019 The way to go after China is to put pressure on its banks, many of which have helped North Korea conduct illicit transactions. Anthony Ruggiero, Fortune, "Trump Cancelled the North Korea Summit. Here’s What He Should Do Next.," 25 May 2018 Medical research into the benefits of medical marijuana to treat autism is limited in the United States, because the plant is classified as a Schedule I drug along with other illicit substances such as heroin. Maria Clark,, "Could medical marijuana treat severe autism? Some Louisiana parents believe it can help," 25 Apr. 2018 But to pay, in advance, for a regular supply of pork rinds seems (to my critics) to strip the glamour and illicit thrill from the act. Sadie Stein, Town & Country, "Sadie Stein Is a New York Post Subscriber—and She Doesn't Care What You Think About It," 30 May 2017 No one told me not to touch her things, but doing so feels illicit, and dressing up in her painting uniform, to be honest, feels a little too on the nose. Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "Searching for Myself in Alice Neel’s Radical Portraits," 26 Feb. 2019 The negative health consequences of marijuana have been found to be lower than those associated with alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine. Rachel Becker, The Verge, "Legalizing weed is the right move for New York, the state’s health department says," 13 July 2018 The couple engaged in this illicit practice for at least 11 months after the injunction, the motion said, though their 14 properties no longer appear on Airbnb or other sites catering to tourists. Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle, "Landlords turned 14 San Francisco apartments into illegal Airbnbs, suit says," 1 May 2018 The illicit practice affects not only centuries-old rosewood trees but also swaths of rain forest that poachers clear to access them. 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

14 Jun 2019

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 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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More from Merriam-Webster on illicit

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with illicit

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for illicit

Spanish Central: Translation of illicit

Nglish: Translation of illicit for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of illicit for Arabic Speakers

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