Commonly Confused Words: Allusive vs. Elusive

The meaning of allusive and elusive might be elusive to some. However, it is important to understand the difference between the two words, especially if you want to allude correctly to your readers. Learn more about the differences between allusive vs. elusive and see examples of how to use each word. 

Allusive vs. Elusive at a Glance

  • Allusive: Talking about a subject or meaning that is implied but is not direct. Describing something that is hidden in allusions or hinting at a main point. 
  • Elusive: Describing something hard to catch, find, or understand. A person or creature that is rarely seen may be elusive, or a concept that is hard to grasp may be elusive. 

When To Use Allusive 

If something is allusive, it means that it is implying something or is not being direct about something. But how do you know when it is appropriate to use allusive?

If someone is avoiding talking about a subject, you may describe them as using a rhetorical ploy by being allusive. You may also describe a song with some hidden depth as being allusive to another meaning.  

Allude is the root word of allusive. Allude is a verb that means to suggest something or to hint at something. If you say that a person or piece of art alludes to something, you could also say that the same thing is allusive.

Allusive Examples

  • “She was being very allusive when I brought up her job; it was as if she wanted to avoid the topic.” 
  • “The artist’s paintings were allusive, hinting at deeper emotions and themes often seen with a deeper look.”

When To Use Elusive 

Elusive is a very similar word to allusive. However, elusive describes something hard to find, catch, or understand. 

You can think of these two words as being the inverse of each other. While the word allusive is often used to describe something with a hidden substance, the word elusive describes something where the substance is hard to find. 

When someone or something hasn’t been seen in some time, they could be called elusive. Or, when a concept is hard to understand, it could be an elusive concept. 

Perhaps you have a cat that is afraid of guests and never comes out from under the bed when they are over. You may call your cat elusive, as your friend has heard of the cat but has never seen it. 

In another instance, you may say that the concept taught by your philosophy professor is elusive because it is difficult to understand.

Elusive Examples

  • “I haven’t been able to find my elusive left shoe ever since I reorganized my coat closet.” 
  • “My sister has been very elusive these past few weeks. I’ve barely gotten to see her!” 

What Does It All Allude To? 

When understanding elusive vs. allusive, you can see that two letters in a word can make a great difference and change whatever you are alluding to. If you use the incorrect spelling, your meaning may become elusive to your listeners. 

It may help to think of allusive as describing something that has a meaning or substance hidden underneath the surface, whereas elusive describes something where the meaning or substance is difficult to grasp. 

To avoid misunderstandings like allusive vs. elusive and express your thoughts more confidently, check out our resources on commonly confused words.


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