“Allude” or “Refer?

Should I Use “Allude” or “Refer?”

Some writers use allude and refer as if they mean the same thing. While their meanings are similar, they are not identical. To allude to something means to hint at something or suggest something indirectly, whereas to refer to something means to point to something directly.

The following illustration should make the difference between allude and refer clear:

If a character in a piece of fiction undergoes something similar to something the author experienced as a child, the author is indirectly telling the reader about her childhood. You would say that the author is alluding to — not referring to — her childhood.

In a non-fictional autobiography in which the author directly tells the reader specific things that happened to the author during her childhood, you would say she is referring to — not alluding to — her childhood.

Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at magnumproofreading.com.

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