Unlawful Versus Illegal

Today’s topic is illegal versus unlawful.

Michael W. Flynn
3-minute read

Practically, there is no difference for punishment purposes. Both illegal and unlawful acts can get you into trouble.

Grammar Girl:

Interesting! So Jed had better not eat and rock out on the bus.

I found a couple of interesting things while I was reading about prefixes. First, un- (as in unlawful) is an English prefix, and in- (as in injustice) is the corresponding Latin prefix.

And then second, il- (as in illegal, illicit, and illegitimate) is considered to be a form of the prefix in- (as in injustice and indivisible).

It works a little bit like how you choose to use the words a or an depending on whether the next word starts with a consonant or vowel sound. In this case, the prefix in- gets changed to il- when the word starts with the letter l, and it also gets changed to im- when the word starts with a p or b, as in impossible and imbalance.

There's bonus information on the Grammar Girl website about the prefix in-.

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