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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Based on the investigation, authorities believed that Sharp had targeted items containing illicit drugs, according to court records. John Caniglia, cleveland, 29 Dec. 2021 What could be more agreeable than to read about illicit amours and political intrigues during the twilight of the ancien regime? Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2020 Amid a soaring rise in overdose deaths, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday aimed at blocking online sales of illicit drugs, including highly lethal fentanyl. Kate Santich,, 15 Dec. 2021 State statistics show that from 2007 to 2017, more than 4,600 people in Oklahoma died from overdoses from opioids of all kinds, including prescription painkillers and illicit versions such as heroin and illegally made fentanyl., 9 Nov. 2021 Premiering in 2016, the Vice TV program explores the dangerous world of illicit trade. Dory Jackson,, 30 Nov. 2021 To discourage this illicit trade, the Spanish retaliated by organizing offshore patrols for ruthless search-and-seizure operations. Washington Post, 10 Nov. 2021 As another prime example of the AI For Bad and self-driving cars, see my recent analysis on the use of self-driving cars as a drug mule for the illicit drug trade, at this link here. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 28 Oct. 2021 And demand in China is one of the largest drivers of the global illicit wildlife trade. Jonathan Cheng, WSJ, 11 Oct. 2021

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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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

11 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Illicit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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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)

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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