Allusion Definition ›› Allusion vs. Illusion vs. Elusion



Is commonly confused with such words as illusion and elusion which we will explain shortly. However, allusion is a noun that is used to speak about something indirectly, without actually saying it.

Here are some examples of words that are allusions.


  • Big brother is watching.

A term that now alludes to being under surveillance by an organization or someone with power.


  • He found himself in a catch-22.

A catch-22 is a situation from which there is no escape without consequences.

Good Samaritan

  • A good Samaritan pulled over and helped me change my flat tire.

A good person who helps us in a difficult situation.

Here are some examples of the word, allusion in its verb form, alluded, which further helps us to understand its meaning.

  • He alluded to the fact that there is a spy among us.
  • My boss alluded during our meeting that I spend too much money on my overseas work trips.
  • She alluded that I may have feelings for her sister.

Allusions are commonplace in both written and spoken English on a daily basis. In fact, you may already use them. Let’s look at the types of allusions that exist. 

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Types of Allusions

There are four principal types of Allusions.


When a figure of speech makes reference to the Bible without directly saying so. The example of our Good Samaritan earlier is a biblical allusion.

It alludes to a fictional story in which a nameless man helped a man from another culture who had been beaten and robbed; the two men did not know one another.

  • There are many Good Samaritans in our community still.


An indirect statement that refers to another well known literary or written work.

A well-known story is Pinnochio, a boy made from wood by a carpenter who comes to life. When this boy lied to his father, his nose would grow outwards, showing him to be a liar.

Today, a person may use a literary allusion to the well-known story of Pinnochio, to mention that they think he is lying.

  • I can see your nose growing!

We will discuss literary allusions in more detail later on, during which you may notice how a literary allusion can refer to a biblical allusion also.


A historical allusion is when a statement refers to either a place, event or person from the past.

  • I was so upset about the world war between your parents and mine!


Have you ever quoted a movie, song or another well known modern-day thing during a real-life situation with your friends? The quote will remind them of the film or song, perhaps causing them to laugh or react in another way.

  • I was so suspicious of him; he made my spidey senses tingle! (A cultural reference to the Spider-Man films and comics.) 

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Allusion in literature

Used in literature, it can refer to a person, place, object or even situation past or present. Understanding a literary allusion is dependent on the listener following the figure of speech used and recognizing the literary reference.

For our examples, let’s use the Bible, a book that is available in whole or part to over 90% of the world population, making many of its chapters famous worldwide.

Imagine a writer is describing the weather and heavy rain. They may write, ‘it rained so hard, and for so long they thought the world was going to flood again.’

The words ‘world was going to flood again’ would allude to the worldwide flood recorded in the Bible as having happened during the lifetime of a man called Noah, destroying everyone and everything except for Noah, his family and the animals with them.

The city’s gardens are like the garden of Eden! – A familiar biblical allusion ‘garden of Eden,’ refers to the perfect, beautiful garden created by God in the first part of the Bible.

As a literary tool, allusions are invaluable. They allow the writer to describe something in great detail with very few words by alluding to something with which the reader can relate and is familiar.

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Antonyms and Synonyms of Allusion

Antonyms include the words, silence, and reality.

The latter is perhaps more applicable as an allusion can allude to something that is not true or real. Therefore, the word reality would truly become its antonym.

Synonyms of Allusion would include the following words.

  • Reference
  • Mention
  • Hint
  • Suggest
  • Insinuate
  • Quote
  • Cite
  • Intimation
  • Remark
  • Connotation
  • Implication

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Optical Allusions

Be careful! An optical allusion is easily confused with optical illusion, a word we will define in a moment. Optical is a word referring to our ability to see, something visual.

Therefore, an optical allusion is seen, not heard. That means you may see something that reminds you of something else. It could be any one of the four kinds of allusions we mentioned earlier.

For example, if you had seen a massive, violent storm that caused heavy rain, you may have said: “it was raining so hard I thought it was going to flood the earth!” It is still a literary, even biblical allusion but caused by something seen at that moment. 

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Allusion, illusion, elusion – what’s the difference?

As we learned an allusion to something is a reference to another thing. Illusion and elusion are entirely different.


Is something that appears different to what it is or something that gives us a false idea.

As an example, many of us are amazed by a magician, a person who seems to make something appear or disappear as if by magic.

When we were children, this is most likely what we believed, however, as we got older we learned that these magic tricks are visual illusions and slide-of-hand tricks that make it look like the object has appeared or disappeared.

  • A famous illusion is when a magician appears to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

We can also use the word illusion to describe a mistaken belief or thought.

  • I was under the illusion that we were going to the party first.


Is a rarely used noun; its verb form, however, may be more familiar to you, elude.

It means to escape or evade a dangerous situation, problem, place or even person in an intelligent way.

  • His elusion of the guards, when he escaped prison was genius.
  • It was the greatest criminal elusion in recorded history.

With this knowledge now try to read aloud and understand the following sentence, make sure to enunciate the different vowels at the beginning of each of the words we have examined, Allusion, Illusion, and Elusion.

  • He was under no illusion that for his elusion to work, he would need to make an allusion to the movie, The Great Escape. 

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In Summary

Allusions are an everyday part of our speech in English, but the reality is that we don’t often use the word itself in our conversations. That said, it is essential to understand what allusions are and how to use them in their various forms.

Understanding allusions will take time, especially when learning a new language and all of its cultural references, only then will you make the connection if you are familiar with it.

What allusion could you make up right now?

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