lic·​it ˈli-sət How to pronounce licit (audio)
: conforming to the requirements of the law : not forbidden by law : permissible
licitly adverb

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Illicit vs Licit

Licit is far less common than its antonym illicit, but you probably won't be surprised to learn that the former is the older of the two. Not by much, though: the first known use of licit in print is from 1483, whereas illicit shows up in print for the first time in 1506. For some reason illicit took off while licit just plodded along. When licit appears these days, it often modifies drugs or crops. Meanwhile, illicit shows up before words like thrill and passion (as well as gambling, relationship, activities, and, of course, drugs and crops.) The Latin word licitus, meaning "lawful," is the root of the pair; licitus itself is from licēre, meaning "to be permitted."

Choose the Right Synonym for licit

lawful, legal, legitimate, licit mean being in accordance with law.

lawful may apply to conformity with law of any sort (such as natural, divine, common, or canon).

the lawful sovereign

legal applies to what is sanctioned by law or in conformity with the law, especially as it is written or administered by the courts.

legal residents of the state

legitimate may apply to a legal right or status but also, in extended use, to a right or status supported by tradition, custom, or accepted standards.

a perfectly legitimate question about taxes

licit applies to a strict conformity to the provisions of the law and applies especially to what is regulated by law.

the licit use of drugs by doctors

Examples of licit in a Sentence

law enforcement agencies are demanding stricter regulation of the sale of licit medications that can later be used in the home manufacture of illicit drugs
Recent Examples on the Web In Guerrero, more than 65% live in poverty, and around 40 criminal groups operate in different licit and illicit activities, according to the International Crisis Group. Karol Suárez, The Courier-Journal, 25 Apr. 2024 Farmers upstate were growing fields of licit marijuana! Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, 19 Feb. 2024 In trying to please its senior ranks, the army has allowed officers to benefit from criminal enterprises—the army helps preside over Myanmar’s licit and illicit economies. Avinash Paliwal, Foreign Affairs, 24 Jan. 2024 But animals’ taste for human goods — licit and illicit — can also bring trouble for them and for us. Emily Anthes, New York Times, 21 Feb. 2023 The only morally licit treatment of an ectopic pregnancy, for a Catholic, besides watch and wait, is the salpingectomy, on the basis that the demise of the pregnancy is an indirect effect of acting to preserve the mother’s life. Joanna Petrone, Longreads, 18 Aug. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'licit.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle French licite, from Latin licitus, from past participle of licēre to be permitted — more at license

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of licit was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near licit

Cite this Entry

“Licit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Legal Definition


lic·​it ˈli-sət How to pronounce licit (audio)
: conforming to the requirements of the law : not forbidden by law
licitly adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on licit

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