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Difference between 'elude', 'escape', and 'evade' in this context.

The three terms have rather similar meanings, but I found this answer on Quora that explains the difference.

elude : escape from or avoid (a danger, enemy, or pursuer), typically in a skilful or cunning way, eg "He tried to elude the security men by sneaking through a back door"

evade : avoid dealing with or accepting (something unpleasant or morally or legally required) eg “He continually evades paying taxes.”

escape : breaking free from confinement or control. eg “The prisoners of war escaped from the camp.”

ELUDE = avoid a physical enemy and not get caught

EVADE = avoid a moral obligation

ESCAPE = after being caught by an enemy and confined, you break free

In view of this, I'd like to know if this difference can be applied when these words are used to refer specifically to a lack of understanding.

Example:

The reason for his actions evades/eludes/escapes our understanding.

An Ngrams search shows how evades in this case is less used. But do they have the same meaning?

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  • Are you asking for a full explanation of the the precise difference among those three words when used literally, or which of them is better when used figuratively with "our understanding"?
    – gotube
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 15:16
  • @gotube. Only when used about 'our understanding' (I edited my post for clarity)
    – Fra
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 15:27

1 Answer 1

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The Quora quote you give refers to the literal meanings of those words, but in your context, you're only interested in a figurative, metaphorical meaning. Metaphorical meanings are necessarily less precise.

As your Ngram search shows, "elude" and "escape" correlate much better with "understanding" than "evade". The reason is that "evade" includes the nuance of being intentional. Something can "elude" or "escape" without having that purpose, but to "evade" is to purposefully avoid something.

Since it doesn't make sense in this metaphor that a reason would be purposefully trying to get away from our understanding, only "elude" and "escape" work.

They're both good. "Escape" is a basic word, while "elude" feels more elevated and mysterious.

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