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Language Arts

Allusion vs Illusion

What is the difference between allusion and illusion? This article compares definitions of allusion vs illusion, as well as tips and tricks on remembering when it is proper to use illusion versus allusion, and distinguishing the difference.

The essay contained an allusion to Harry Houdini, widely acknowledged master of illusion. With the only visible difference being in the initial letter, you can guess that allusion and illusion will have very similar pronunciations and likely come from the same root, with just a different prefix. Let’s look at this pair of nouns to understand their differences.

A Common Source

Allusion and illusion share a root, while each has a different prefix. The root that they have in common is the Latin word ludere, which means “to play.” The difference in this playful pair is found in their prefix. The prefix of allusion is ad-, which when added to ludere forms aludere,  “to play with.” The prefix of illusion is in-, which when added to ludere forms illudere, “to mock.”

When it comes to pronunciation, the difference in these two words is quite minute. Allusion is pronounced /uh LOO zhuhn/, while illusion is pronounced /ih LOO zhuhn/. In the context of the stream of sound in a whole sentence, the two words can be difficult to distinguish by pronunciation and require context for the user to be sure which one was used.


An allusion is an indirect reference. This means that it is not explicit and some inference or surmise on the part of the hearer or reader is required in order to comprehend that is being referenced. Here is an example:

The name Yogi Bear is an allusion to the Yankee baseball star and manager, Yogi Berra, and Jellystone Park, of course, is an allusion to Yellowstone Park.

Allusion also refers to an instance of using the technique, as in this sentence:

Using an allusion in your public speaking can help involve your audience by setting them a little puzzle to solve as they listen.


An illusion is a false or erroneous perception or conception. People can have an illusion, as well as create an illusion, in which case, they may either be creating art or attempting to deceive others. Here are some examples:

The Hallowe’en production tried to create the illusion of a spooky, abandoned castle, haunted by restless spirits.

Unfortunately, Ralph is under the illusion that he is actually a competent volleyball player. . . .

Rhonda hoped that well-chosen clothing and a heavy accent would create the illusion that she had recently arrived from Eastern Europe.

Distinguishing Allusion and Illusion

One mnemonic you can use to remember the difference between allusion and illusion is this: allusion, by making references to other works, looks to all the world. Illusion, with it’s potential for trickery, on the other hand, can cause ill. If you remember this, then the spelling of the word will remind you of which is which.

One other things: there is no form illude, so you don’t have to worry about distinguishing allude from illude. But do watch out for elude, which means “to get away from.”

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