il·​lic·​it (ˌ)i(l)-ˈli-sət How to pronounce illicit (audio)
: not permitted : unlawful
illicitly adverb

Did you know?

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 Oregon was the only state to decriminalize illicit drug possession. Sara Chernikoff, USA TODAY, 6 Apr. 2024 Among other topics that Yellen plans to discuss with her Chinese counterparts include bilateral cooperation on countering illicit finance and working on global issues such as climate change and financial stability, according to the Treasury Department. Laura He, CNN, 5 Apr. 2024 In children, this kind of unresponsiveness most often comes from ingesting something — an accidental overdose of a medication or an illicit drug. Julia Michie Bruckner, Discover Magazine, 5 Apr. 2024 New York’s rollout of legalized marijuana has been defined by a slow licensing process, legal challenges, a proliferation of thousands of illicit shops and a lack of substantial regulatory enforcement. Philip Marcelo, Fortune, 5 Apr. 2024 That’s a joy that pervades the book, despite a subplot involving an illicit romance that ends in tragedy. Chelsea Leu, The Atlantic, 3 Apr. 2024 Some students clearly relished the opportunity to visit places that otherwise may have seemed illicit or inappropriate: Christian churches, gay bars, tattoo parlors. Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, 1 Apr. 2024 Not long after he was cleared, however, leaked nudes and illicit messages purported to be from Horner were sent to several media publications including Fortune. Ryan Hogg, Fortune Europe, 27 Mar. 2024 The affidavit references Worley sending other girls illicit messages via Snapchat. Tracy Neal,, 14 Mar. 2024

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

Word History


Latin illicitus, from in- + licitus lawful — more at licit

First Known Use

1506, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of illicit was in 1506

Dictionary Entries Near illicit

Cite this Entry

“Illicit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


il·​lic·​it (ˈ)il-ˈ(l)is-ət How to pronounce illicit (audio)
: illegal
illicit drug traffic
illicitly adverb

Legal Definition


il·​lic·​it il-ˈli-sət How to pronounce illicit (audio)
: 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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!