Allusion: Definition and Examples of Allusion in Conversation & Literature

You may have heard of the concept of allusion and wondered what it was. This area of the English language may at first, seem confronting if you do not understand how it is used, but with a simple explanation, it is easy to understand thing.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the meaning of allusion and how it can be used in both day to day conversation as well as how it can be used in literature. We will enforce this understanding by taking a look at some examples of how allusion can be used in both of these contexts.


What Is Allusion?

Allusion is a form of figurative language in which an object, person or idea is brought to mind without directly mentioning the name of what is being referred to. In most cases, allusion is used to divert the mind to something which is not within the general context of the current conversation and is often left to the imagination of the listener or reader to create the reference for themselves.

When used as a literary device, allusion is usually used in order to reference a part of the text which appeared earlier on or another text for example an allusion to a book written by Steven King.

Allusion Examples

Allusion in Conversation

Allusion can be used in day to day conversation as a way to reference something which may not be totally relevant to the current conversation but might have some bearing on its content. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how allusion might be used in spoken language as a figure of speech.

  • There is no need to act like a Romeo for her.” The reference here is to the character Romeo from the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
  • Sadly, a Pandora’s box of crime has been opened due to the bad living conditions of the town.” Allusion is used here to reference a Greek myth about Pandora’s box.
  • The tropical island was just like a garden of Eden.” The use of allusion here, references the haven mentioned in the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible.
  • The new kid at school is like the new Newton, he is so clever.” The use of allusion in this sentence refers to the intelligent scientist Isaac Newton.
  • Stop behaving like your mother.” Allusion is used in this context to reference a person, this can be seen in other examples, which we will look at in the next few bullet points.
  • You are acting just like my ex girlfriend.”
  • He is behaving as badly as my son who is in prison.”
  • The forest was swallowed in water just like Jonah.” Allusion is used here to reference Jonah who was swallowed by a whale.
  • The rain has not stopped for forty days and forty nights.” In this example, allusion is being used to refer to the time period of rain during the flood of Noah.

Allusion in Literature

As we mentioned earlier on, allusion can be used as a literary device, this is a common practise for writers and is likely to be something which is regularly seen. We will now have a look at some examples of times in which allusion has been used within written text.

  • In Paradise lost written by John Milton, we see many examples of allusion throughout the text, by looking at the following passage we can pull out a couple of examples of this. “Through the night the dreadless angel was unpursued. Woken by the circling hours with a rose hand.” The allusion used in the first sentence refers to an angel named Abdiel who was fearless and in the second sentence allusion is used with the term circling hours to reference a Greek myth ‘The Horae.”
  • In the piece Doctor Faustus written by Marlowe, we can see many example of allusion throughout the work. One example of this can be seen in the following passage; “He mounted him up to olympus’ top where a chariot can be seen burning bright.” This example of allusion refers to a Greek myth where the Mountain Olympus was set alight.
  • The piece written by Conrad, Heart of darkness features the use of allusion to make reference to the fates from Greek mythology, we see this in the excerpt “Their anxiety was increased by the stares of the two knitting women.”
  • In Ode to the Grecian urn written by Keats, we see many examples of allusion, the following passage displays this. “Historian Sylvan who cannot express, a floral tale more sweet than this rhyme, a legend fringed by leaf that haunts thy shape, of mortals or of Gods, or indeed both. In Tempe or in the dales of Arcade.” The allusion here is the reference to Sylvan who was a deity from ancient Greece, as well as the mention of Tempe which refers to a place frequented by Apollo and other Gods.
  • In the tale of Moby Dick, we see allusion used in the name of the boat, which was called Pequot war 1636-37, this makes reference to a war where everyone was killed, implying that everyone on the boat would perish by the end of the story.
  • In Hamlet written by William Shakespeare, we see allusion being used in order to reference some Greek God’s when the title character is describing his father. “See what was upon his brow, Hyperion curls, the front of Jove and eyes like Mars.”


From looking further into the concept of allusion as well as looking at some examples of how it can be used, we have learnt that it is a way to reference an idea, object or written work without directly mentioning its name. It is used to reference the reader or speaker to something, allowing them to form the conclusion in their own minds.

Allusion can be used in both a conversational context or within written work as a literary device. When used in writing, an allusion can make a piece appear less bland and much more artful creating a more interesting reading experience.

Allusion Infographic


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