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Allusion and Illusion

Commonly Confused Words


optical illusion

This is an optical illusion (not an allusion)

(Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images)

The similar-sounding words allusion and illusion are often confused, though their meanings are quite different.


The noun allusion means an indirect reference to a person, event, or thing. (The verb form of allusion is allude.)

The noun illusion means a deceptive appearance or a false idea. (The adjectival form of illusion is illusory.)

See also:


  • The students were puzzled by their teacher's allusions to old TV shows and long-forgotten pop songs.
  • "The traditional lunchtime dish is called casado, or married man, a humorous allusion to the kind of repetitive meals that a man purportedly expects once he marries. The dish is in fact quite varied."
    (Chalene Helmuth, Culture and Customs of Costa Rica, 2000)
  • "If we chat, it will create the illusion of time going faster."
    (Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang, 2010)

  • "The magician's illusion is always more interesting when the audience has no clue as to the method. The more impossible the illusion seems, the more magical it appears to be."
    (William V. Dunning, Changing Images of Pictorial Space, 1991)


(a) Is a pleasant ______ better than a harsh reality?

(b) "[O]ne of Homer's relatives informs us that he runs an 'unsuccessful shrimp company.' This is clearly intended as an _____ to Forrest Gump."
(W. Irwin and J.R. Lombardo in The Simpsons and Philosophy, 2001)

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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