Definition of illegal in English:

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Pronunciation: /ɪˈliːɡ(ə)l/


Contrary to or forbidden by law, especially criminal law: illegal drugs
More example sentences
  • The report also raises concerns over the efforts to tackle illegal drug use in prison.
  • If it cannot protect them from drugs then it should protect them from illegal drugs and gangsters.
  • English law makes illegal a contract to indemnify a person in respect of liability for fraud.
unlawful, illicit, illegitimate, against the law, criminal, lawbreaking, actionable, felonious;
unlicensed, unauthorized, unsanctioned, unwarranted, unofficial;
outlawed, banned, forbidden, barred, prohibited, interdicted, proscribed, not allowed, not permitted;
contraband, black-market, under the counter, bootleg;
Law  malfeasant;
German verboten
informal crooked, shady
British informal bent, dodgy
rare non licet
foul, against the rules;
unfair, unsporting, unsportsmanlike, below the belt, dirty, dishonourable, dishonest, underhand, cheating


derogatory, chiefly North American
A person living in a country without official authorization.
Example sentences
  • Immigration officials say those illegals come from more than 100 countries.
  • Have a telephone tip line to report illegals to Immigration.
  • People who insist that all illegals be deported have an excellent point, and I think they're right.


Illegal and unlawful have slightly different meanings, although they are often used interchangeably. Something that is illegal is against the law, whereas an unlawful act merely contravenes the rules that apply in a particular context. Thus handball in soccer is unlawful, but it is not illegal. A third word with a similar meaning is illicit: this tends to encompass things that are forbidden or disapproved of by custom or society, as in an illicit love affair.


Early 17th century: from French illégal or medieval Latin illegalis, from Latin in- 'not' + legalis 'according to the law'.

Words that rhyme with illegal

beagle, eagle, legal, paralegal, regal, spread eagle, viceregal

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: il|legal

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