If you’ve ever wondered if you should invoke something or evoke it, you’re not alone. Not only do the words sound similar, but the difference in their meanings is subtle, and they’re also not likely to be words we use often. That’s when it’s time to invoke the knowledge of the grammar gods.
The first reason these two words can be tricky to distinguish between is that they both derive from the same Latin root word (“vocare” or “vox,” which means “to call” or “voice”). They can both mean “to conjure” or “to cite,” but there are some nuances to what you might invoke versus what you might evoke.
When to use invoke in a sentence
Although invoke and evoke are both used to call things, invoke has more of a “call upon” connotation, particularly as it relates to an authority, aid, or assistance of some kind. (That’s why we invoked the knowledge of the grammar gods, who are working through me to help clear up any confusion.)
You might invoke your fifth amendment right, or you might want to invoke a creative muse when you’re feeling blocked.
When to use evoke in a sentence
Evoke more often means to “call forth,” which sort of sounds like the same thing but refers more to calling a memory, image, or emotion to your mind. To smell freshly made applesauce might evoke memories of holidays at Grandma’s house, but a bad attitude is not likely to evoke sympathy from your partner.
How to remember the difference
Actually remembering the difference when you need it is the struggle, but there are some tricks that might work for you. As Grammarly says:
The difference between the two could be summarized like this: Invoke is active and direct, and it can have a material effect; Evoke is passive and indirect, and it usually has an emotional or intellectual effect.
My takeaway here is that if you can remember that Evoke is often related to Emotions, you should be good to go in most cases.
Merriam-Webster also points out that lengthening the words can help clear up the difference when you’re extra stuck:
There is little confusion with longer forms of each word, which may help you in differentiating between them. Examples of these include evocative, which means “evoking or tending to evoke an especially emotional response,” and invocation, which is frequently used in the sense of “a summoning up or calling upon for authority or justification.”
And now, a limerick, for no good reason
And finally — because someone at Merriam-Webster must have been feeling extra spicy on this particular day — they also point out that if you’re still confused, it’s no big deal. That’s just English being English, and here’s a cute limerick they wrote to drive that point home:
You think that you might’ve misspoke
With your recent use of invoke
We offer the thesis
That such catachresis
Our language is made to provoke
If nothing else, we all know what catachresis means now, which is something.