Looking for general information with regards to solicit vs elicit, as well as which would be the correct word for this phrase:

Before spending time learning your system, I just wanted to [solicit or elicit] some feedback from you.

Some background:

A person had written an advertisement basically for their system, and I asked a question and then wrote the above phrase using solicit

I've seen both elicit and solicit used almost interchangeably in this kind of phrasing about getting feedback. I've also read that elicit should be used if it is a process and/or it doesn't necessarily benefit the person. There is definitely some confusion on my part with regards to the use of those two words in this example.

  • Does a dictionary help? Elicit | Solicit Using those definitions, is there anything still unclear? – Andrew Leach Jul 23 '13 at 13:10
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    @AndrewLeach Both definitions seem to apply which is why I asked the question. Thanks. – lucuma Jul 23 '13 at 13:12
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    If you're not sure, what's wrong with "ask for". – TrevorD Jul 23 '13 at 13:55
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    @TrevorD there is nothing wrong with "ask for" – lucuma Jul 23 '13 at 14:13

The difference is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that you can elicit the truth from the evidence, but not solicit (soliciting is asking, implying a "conscious" entity you're seeking something from). Relevant definitions from OED...

elicit - to bring out, educe (principles, truths, etc.) from the data in which they are implied.
Also, to extract, draw out (information) from a person by interrogation; sometimes with object clause introduced by that.

solicit - to seek after; to try to find, obtain, or acquire.

As implied by the second part of the first definition, in OP's exact context either word could be used. And I would say the intended meaning is so clear it's pointless to suggest the actual choice of verb could have any semantic significance there (most people would just use get or ask for anyway).

That OED definition implies that when you elicit information from a person, you're treating him insensitively, inhumanely. The other two current answers say it's when you get information out of someone surreptitiously or indirectly.

I think all these implications arise naturally from the fact that you normally elicit information from data/things. If it's from a person, you've effectively "objectified" him, which can lead to a range of negative connotations (but none universally observed).

Note that there's a much clearer and more consistent distinction between the two words in, say,...

1: We will solicit feedback from the users
2: We will elicit feedback from the users

In #1 we're going to ask, but we might not get the feedback. In #2 we're saying we will get it (by force if necessary! :).

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  • 'in OP's exact context either word could be used.' But with different meanings, surely. As you point out with the 'torture to elicit information' usage statistic. I certainly would react badly to someone saying they intended to elicit information from me. – Bobbi Bennett Jul 23 '13 at 23:09
  • @Bobbi Bennett: I don't think "by interrogation" in the OED definition necessarily implies the Spanish Inquisition! :) Anyway, here are over 1000 elicit your comments which I think isn't likely to occur very often at all in "coercive" contexts. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '13 at 0:45
  • Well, 900 of those guys probably meant solicit and didn't know it (grin). Hopefully the next 1000 will come by here, and find the right word for their meaning! – Bobbi Bennett Jul 24 '13 at 12:35
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    @Bobbi: Possibly. It's true that in toto there are about 15 solicit your comments for every elicit your comments, but if you look at that chart you'll see the "right word" has massively fallen out of favour in the past 2-3 decades. I'd guess that's because of its connotations of prostitution, which I don't expect to go away any time soon (so don't get your hopes up re "right will out"! :) – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '13 at 13:15

I just wanted to solicit some feedback from you:

I just wanted to ask for some feedback from you.


I just wanted to elicit some feedback from you:

I just wanted to evoke, do something that might cause you to provide some feedback. Perhaps, if I wanted you to smile, in order to elicit that reaction from you, I might tell a joke, or make a funny face.

vs (finally)

I wanted some feedback from you:

What you really wanted.

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I think both terms speak of gaining information, but elicit carries a sense of trying to come by information without making it obvious what you are doing or what information you are really seeking, while solicit is just a straightforward request.

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  • Sounds correct to me. – Nicholas Shanks Jul 23 '13 at 13:25
  • @user48193 thanks for the answer. Would you say that considering I asked a question for which I was wanting feedback, that solicit is correct in my example? – lucuma Jul 23 '13 at 13:27
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    Yes, if you're not going about things in a roundabout manner, and are just asking for information directly, then solicit is your word. Elicit is when you may be trying to draw a compliment from someone say, without trying to make it obvious what you are doing, or trying to get someone to incriminate themselves. – user48193 Jul 23 '13 at 13:41
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    -1 I think 530 written instances of torture to elicit information give the lie to this assertion. – FumbleFingers Jul 23 '13 at 21:22

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