Evoke vs. Invoke: How to Choose the Right Word

These verbs are close in meaning and often confused with each other

Saying a little prayer for finals week
PeopleImages / Getty Images

The commonly confused words "evoke" and "invoke" come from the same Latin root vocare, meaning “to call," but their meanings aren't quite the same. Let's look at their definitions and usages in context to help you see how they differ.

How to Use "Evoke"

The verb "evoke" means to summon, call forth, or call to mind. It's often used in the context of bringing up a memory, sentiment, or nostalgia. Music or smells can put someone right back into a place he was decades earlier. A period movie or book, done right, can spark memories for people who lived through the era. All of these things evoke these memories and emotions in the person receiving the stimuli.

Or if someone evokes a particular feeling with her work, it means that the pieces are in the same style as another. For example, if someone's artwork is in the style of Cubism, it might evoke comparisons to Pablo Picasso. A pop-rock band's music might evoke the Beatles.

How to Use "Invoke"

The verb "invoke" means to call on, appeal to, or petition for support or assistance; cite in justification, or to summon with incantations. "The word originally referred to calling on, appealing to, or summoning God or a divine being," noted author Stephen Spector in "May I Quote You on That?"

People historically may have invoked a king's pardon or a clergyman's assistance. The Allies invoked assistance from the United States during the two world wars.

Examples

Here are some examples of "evoke" and "invoke," showing the difference in their meanings in context.

  • The taste of baked apples and the smell of a bonfire evoke the pleasures of autumn.
  • From "Once and Always a New Yorker": "Returning to a place where childhoods happened, first jobs were held and mates were met can evoke strong sentiments about the passing of time and life choices."
  • From "Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays": "Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much."
  • All Dad had to do to get us to stop fighting was to invoke the name of Santa Claus and remind us of his watchful eyes.

How to Remember the Difference

If you need a mnemonic device, remember that "invoking" is something that you do intentionally. Both of these words start with "in." By contrast, when something is "evoked" in your mind, it requires no effort on your part. It just pops into your head. Both of these start with an "e."

Practice Exercises

  1. The defendant tried unsuccessfully to _____ the principle of self-defense.
  2. There's nothing like an album of old vacation photos to _____ memories of childhood.

Answers to Practice Exercises

  1. The defendant tried unsuccessfully to invoke the principle of self-defense.
  2. There's nothing like an album of old vacation photos to evoke memories of childhood.

Sources

  • Chesterton, G. K. "Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays," 1917.
  • "Is It 'Invoke' or 'Evoke'?" Merriam-Webster.
  • Kripke, Pamela Gwyn. “Once and Always a New Yorker.” The New York Times, 24 June 2016.
  • Spector, Stephen. "May I Quote You on That? A Guide to Grammar and Usage." Oxford University Press, 2015.