Allude vs. Elude and Allusion vs. Illusion

How to use "allude," "elude," "allusion," and "illusion" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

An allusion is “a reference to something, often an indirect reference,” and to allude thus means “to make a reference”:

novel makes frequent illusions to the Bible
novel makes frequent allusions to the Bible
author alluded to the Biblical story of Job
a highly allusive blog post making sly references to a variety of Internet memes

To elude means “to escape,” and elusive means “difficult to find, capture, or define”:

police could not capture the allusive fugitive
police could not capture the elusive fugitive
an elusive quality that was difficult to express
fugitive eluded the police

An illusion is “something that causes a false perception or belief” (or the false perception or belief itself):

optical allusion that made the image appear to change
optical illusion that made the image appear to change
has no illusions about his chances of success

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.