Words can be confusing, especially when they sound alike, but mean completely different things. People get confused with “its” and “it’s,” “their” and “there,” and other similar difficult pairings. English can be a nightmare for the unwary.
The trio I have highlighted today are, allusive, elusive and illusive. You possibly started out thinking you knew the answers to each, but are now doubting yourself. Or, you simply have no idea. Perhaps, on the other hand, you are the one in ten that knows exactly what the answers are. Good for you.
The answers are really quite simple and not at all elusive. Let’s start with allusive…
Someone is being allusive when they allude to someone or something. This is when the person or object is not directly mentioned, but rather it is hinted at, or mentioned directly, but not explained fully. Shakespeare was allusive, for example, in Hamlet when he wrote these lines:
See, what a grace was seated on this brow; Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself; An eye like Mars, to threaten and command; A station like the herald Mercury New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill.
Here you find Shakespeare alluding to several Greek and Roman mythological characters, such as Hyperion, Jove, Mars and Mercury.
Elusive is perhaps the easiest of this trio to understand. It can be used to describe something or someone who is hard to get hold of, something that is difficult to understand, or a memory that won’t quite be captured.
An example of the use of elusive might be, “Winning the Champions League Cup proved to be an elusive task for the football team.” Another example might be, “Reliable and provable evidence for the existence of the Loch Ness monster is persistently elusive.”
The final term to consider is illusive. This refers to illusion, the kind of thing stage magicians regularly do. However, we more often refer to that aspect as being illusory, rather than illusive, but either one is correct.
So now you know the differences between allusive, elusive and illusive, and they will never confuse you again.