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[ih-lee-guh l] /ɪˈli gəl/
forbidden by law or statute.
contrary to or forbidden by official rules, regulations, etc.:
The referee ruled that it was an illegal forward pass.
Informal: Disparaging and Offensive. illegal alien.
Origin of illegal
From the Medieval Latin word illēgālis, dating back to 1620-30. See il-2, legal
Related forms
illegally, adverb
Can be confused
illegal, illicit (see synonym study at the current entry)
1. unlawful; illegitimate; illicit; unlicensed.
Synonym Study
1, 2. Illegal, unlawful, illegitimate, illicit, criminal can all describe actions not in accord with law. Illegal refers most specifically to violations of statutes or, in organized athletics, codified rules: an illegal seizure of property; an illegal block (in football). Unlawful means not sanctioned by or according to law: an unlawful claim to the inheritance; to take unlawful advantage of the trading situation. Illegitimate means lacking legal or traditional right or rights: an illegitimate child; illegitimate use of privileged knowledge. Illicit, which originally meant simply “not permitted,” now most often applies to matters regulated by law with specific emphasis on the way things are carried out: illicit conversion of property; an illicit attempt to control the market. Criminal most often refers to violation of the statutes of penal as opposed to civil law. All felonies are criminal as are all crimes sometimes punishable by death such as murder, arson, and kidnapping: a criminal act.
Usage note
3. See illegal alien. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for illegal
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • With a man of that sort scrupulousness was a misplaced and even an illegal sentiment.

    The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
  • They'll do their best to get him, and if they do there'll be trouble of an illegal nature.

    The Gentleman From Indiana Booth Tarkington
  • After all persuasions had failed, we had tried threats: the thing he purposed to do was illegal.

    Lotus Buds

    Amy Carmichael
  • He had no wish to be discovered there—his entrance had been too irregular, too illegal, for that.

    The Film of Fear Arnold Fredericks
  • That is to say, somewhere and at some time there has been a transfer of that property that was illegal.

    Thankful's Inheritance Joseph C. Lincoln
British Dictionary definitions for illegal


forbidden by law; unlawful; illicit
unauthorized or prohibited by a code of official or accepted rules
a person who has entered or attempted to enter a country illegally
Derived Forms
illegally, adverb
illegality, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for illegal

1620s, from French illégal or directly from Medieval Latin illegalis, from assimilated form of in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + Latin legalis (see legal). Term illegal immigrant first recorded 1892 in American English (illegal immigration is from 1887).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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