Allude and elude both refer to actions of ambiguity or avoidance, hence their frequent use in descriptions of evasive characters, secrets, mysteries, and, at times, crimes. Aside from this similarity in usage, these two verbs are also spelled and pronounced similarly, which sometimes leads to the wrong word being used in place of the other—a fitting irony considering the meaning of these words. But while allude and elude sound very much alike, they have completely different meanings.
It’s always good to go back to the roots first. Both allude and elude were derived from the Latin word ludere, which means “to play with” or “to mock.” It’s from this etymology that one can draw their similarity in meaning.
Let’s move on to their differences, starting with allude. To allude is “to hint at or refer to something indirectly.” In the sentence “Catarina alluded to Magnus’s whirlwind flings by saying she knew what he did last summer,” the subject referred indirectly to the object’s flirtations by broadly referring to what they did last summer. Likewise, a mother may vaguely call out their child for rude behavior by alluding to their colorful language. As allude operates on vagueness, it’s not appropriate to use it when referencing a quote or mentioning something specific.
Elude is the more blatant one—a literal act of evasion. To elude is “to avoid” or “to escape perception, understanding, or grasp of.” A toddler may try to elude capture from their mom who wants to feed them broccoli, just like an illegal download website may elude the Internet police. This verb also applies to abstract concepts, as in “love continues to elude the young romantic” or “success has always eluded the hopeful entrepreneur.”
To help differentiate further, alluding is something someone might do to elude a person or event. For example, an accomplice in a theft kept alluding to their made-up alibi to elude incrimination by the investigators. Additionally, allude is always followed by the preposition to, while elude can do without it.
Here are some sentences for better context:
Luna kept alluding to her boyfriend without ever saying his name.
Clark was so good at eluding his enemies because he always hid in plain sight.
The decision to cut down the health budget was alluded to by the presidential spokesperson when she talked about necessary sacrifices for progress.
Sakura eluded her captors by hiding inside the card shop.
Avery hoped that the host will at least allude to her achievements when he introduces her to the audience.
The fugitive will elude the cops once again if they continue to slack on the job.
One final trick to differentiate the two: remember that elude starts with e, just like escape and evade, whereas allude refers to all but the very thing you want to say.
That should cover the basics of both words—their proper use should no longer elude you. Feel free to practice using them in writing. If you’ve got other questions about grammar, just send them over here and we’ll answer as best we can. See you again soon!
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