illusion vs. delusion  

What is the difference between illusion and delusion?

An illusion is an erroneous perception, belief, construal, or concept. It can refer to a trick of the senses, such as a sound or image that is not what it seems to be, or to a concept or idea that is wrongly presented or perceived. For example:
  • “We thought there was a lake on the horizon of the desert, but it was merely an optical illusion.”
  • “The photographs give the illusion that the house is much bigger than it actually is.”
  • “Many people feel that our sense of freedom is really just an illusion.”
The word delusion not only sounds similar to illusion, but has a similar meaning as well. It is also a noun, and it means “a mistaken, misleading, or false opinion, idea, or belief.” Unlike illusion, delusion generally carries a negative connotation, suggesting something “abnormal” with a person’s way of thinking. It most often refers to misperceptions that are deceptive, illogical, contrary to factual evidence, or (in psychiatry) the result of mental illness. For example:
  • “I guess I was under the delusion that Geoffrey would stand by me no matter what happened.”
  • “They still adhere to the delusion that they have an inherent right to dictate the moral standards for the rest of society.”
  • “She has this unshakeable delusion of persecution by those around her.”
  • “He has been describing paranoid delusions consistent with symptoms of schizophrenia.”
In some cases, either word will work when describing false or erroneous beliefs or ideas, as in:
However, using delusion instead of illusion in a sentence—even when there is no functional difference in meaning between the two—still carries an implied negativity; if you are trying to convey a more benign or innocent misperception, illusion is the better choice.

Spelling Tricks and Tips

Here’s a way of remembering the difference between the two words:
  • An illusion is usually an innocent trick of the imagination, so it begins with an I.
  • A delusion is more often a deceptive or disturbed misbelief, so it begins with a D.

1. Choose the sentence in which illusion is the correct spelling.

2. Choose the sentence in which delusion is the correct spelling.

3. Choose the sentence in which either illusion or delusion can be correct.

Get all volumes of The Farlex Grammar Book in paperback or eBook.
Share Tweet Share