In Oxford's dictionary, we can find the following definitions for "elusive" and "fleeting":


  • Difficult to find, catch, or achieve.
  • Difficult to remember.


  • Lasting for a very short time.

I found the following explanation on Thesaurus.plus:

Fleeting is a synonym for elusive in fugitive topic. In some cases you can use "Fleeting" instead an adjective "Elusive", when it comes to topics like evasive, indefinable.

In Collins' dictionary, the word "fleeting" is also used in the second definition for "elusive":

elusive: indefinable, puzzling, fleeting

These definitions start to confuse me, as I can not see how all the things above are related with each other. Could you please explain this further and also give me some example sentences too? Thank you!


2 Answers 2


First, I recommend not using Thesaurus-plus: it is not even written in decent English and so may lead the unwary astray.

Second, "elusive" and "fleeting" are not synonyms. To "elude" means to "escape capture" or, more figuratively, "to have dropped from memory." Thus "elusive" means "difficult to capture, find, or remember." "Fleet" means "swift or fast." Thus, something that is fleet may well be elusive: it is difficult to capture because it moves swiftly. Although "fleeting" is derived from "fleet," its primary, perhaps its only, meaning is "brief."

What the Collins dictionary is indicating is a usage that is often applied to memories. A memory that is very brief may be difficult to recapture: a fleeting memory may an elusive memory because it is so brief. It is not a usage that I personally recommend even with respect to memory. To me, an elusive memory is one that is difficult to remember: it does not spring to mind. A fleeting memory is one that does not stay in the mind. The difference may be subtle, but it is one worth retaining. Nevertheless, many people are careless about the distinction.


Something elusive is hard to find. (It eludes you)

Something fleeting can get away easily (it floats away)

So, for example the Snow Leopard, is a big cat that lives in the Himalayas. It could be described as elusive (since it is hard to find) and an encounter with a snow leopard could be called fleeting (since it will disappear quickly)

Note that generally we describe the cat as "elusive" but the meeting is "fleeting".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .