Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Last week, we discussed a couple of homonyms (here and hear) that can cause people some confusion. They sound exactly the same, but have entirely different meanings. Other sets of words can sound similar, but have drastically different meanings too.

Today we’ll be taking a look at three such words: allusion, illusion, and elusion. These aren’t used quite as commonly as affect and effect, but you should still take care to make sure you’re using the right word.

Allusion refers to a figure of speech wherein someone makes reference, either directly or indirectly, to a person, place, event, text, or just about anything else. This reference is usually implied.

For instance, someone could say that he’s “making you an offer you can’t refuse.” He’s not explicitly mentioning The Godfather, but he is alluding to it.

Illusion refers to a distortion of the senses, giving us a false sense of what is reality. When you see David Copperfield suddenly disappear off stage in his magic show, that’s an illusion.

It can also be more subtle. Some skeptics say that the increased security measures by the TSA are not added security at all, but rather just the illusion of increased security.

Elusion is likely the least common of the trio. It refers to the act of escaping capture. You might be more familiar with its use in a phrase like a robber eluding police or eluding arrest. Another way to put it would be to refer to an elusive fox, for instance.

In the end, the allusion to the illusion described by a certain political pundit may elude many analysts, but it’s clear as mud to readers of Beyond the Rhetoric, right? Sure.