Does the smell of chocolate cake invoke or evoke memories from your childhood? What's the difference between these words, and does it matter? Find out how to properly choose between invoke vs. evoke when you're writing or speaking.
The words invoke and evoke sound similar because they both come from the Latin root vocare — "to call." However, their meanings have an important difference.
|invoke||to call upon||to appeal to|
|evoke||to call forth||to produce|
You have the power to invoke something, such as your civil rights, a school rule or another source to support you. Objects or people can evoke memories, feelings or emotions to you.
If these words are still too similar to tell apart, try out a quick memory trick. The word evoke has an "e," just like the words memory and emotion. When something reminds you of a memory or stirs an emotion, choose evoke with an "e."
Invoke is a useful term when you are calling for support or making a request. You can use it:
- to call upon others for assistance (to invoke your friends for help)
- to cite or reference an authority for support (to invoke your company's contract)
- to put something into effect (to invoke a presidential veto)
For example, when a person who is accused of a crime chooses not to answer a question in court to avoid self-incrimination, that person is exercising their right to invoke the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In other words, that person is putting that specific protection into place by saying so out loud.
Typically, you'd use invoke in more formal situations, including legal cases and contract agreements. It also appears in religious or spiritual contexts when calling forth a deity or spirit. For example:
- My current employer could invoke the non-compete clause in my contract if I accept a job with a competitor.
- The attorney invoked a biblical reference in the hopes of encouraging the jury to show mercy on her client.
- My landlord is invoking the right to refuse to renew my lease.
- What will happen to him if he invokes the right to remain silent when being arrested?
- I invoke the Holy Spirit to guide us in our journey.
Evoke also has multiple meanings, but none relate to calling for action or making a direct request. The word evoke refers to recalling or bringing something to mind rather than acting in a direct way. It's the correct word choice when:
- something causes a person to recollect an event (to evoke a memory)
- something brings up an emotion for someone (to evoke a sad feeling)
- something elicits or causes something else (to evoke a strong reaction)
For example, when a smell causes a memory to come to mind, that smell is evoking the past. If the smell of a certain type of flower or plant that grew in the yard of your childhood home always makes you feel like you're back there, then that odor is one that evokes a memory for you.
The following example sentences provide options for using the various forms of the word evoke in a sentence. It would not be correct to substitute the word invoke in these sentences.
- The smell of engine oil always seems to evoke images of my father coming home from work at the machine shop.
- I cried when my new boyfriend brought me red roses because they evoked the sadness of my breakup with Josh.
- Going through all of these old family photos is evoking memories of much happier times in my life.
- Listening to him drone on and on evokes memories of the history class I failed last semester.
- The announcement evoked cheers from the excited crowd.
The most common way for writers to confuse these words is when they’re using them as synonyms for conjure. Technically, both invoke and evoke can reference conjuring spirits or other supernatural forces. However, the key difference is:
invoke - to ask for help from a spiritual force (I invoke the gods of nature for a blessing.)
evoke - to summon a spiritual force (The seance evoked the spirits of the dead.)
Like their more common meanings, invoke means “to call upon” supernatural forces, and evoke means “to call forth” those forces. When you invoke them, they help; when you evoke them, they appear.