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Imply vs. infer

Posted by Maria Murnane | July 17, 2012

In last week’s post I explained the difference between recommend and refer, which people sometimes confuse. This week, I want to discuss imply and infer, which people OFTEN confuse. In fact, I hear these two words used incorrectly at least once a week and sometimes more than that.

Imply means to indicate or suggest. You imply something to someone, and this action constitutes an implication.

Infer means to guess or draw a conclusion. You infer something from someone or something, and this action constitutes an inference.

Note: Some informal schools of thought say that infer can also be used to mean “imply or hint.” However, to quote Webster’s Dictionary, this usage “is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing.”

In other words, don’t use it that way.

imply vs. infer

Here are some examples of correct usage of imply and infer:

  • He didn’t come right out and say it, but his body language implied that he doesn’t think I’m smart enough to be a doctor.
  • He didn’t come right out and say it, but I inferred from his body language that he doesn’t think I’m smart enough to be a doctor.
  • She hasn’t officially announced it yet, but the implication in that email was that she’s going to quit soon.
  • It’s just an inference at this point, but everyone who read that email is convinced she’s going to quit soon.

Here’s a trick to help you keep the two straight. Imply starts with IM, and infer starts with IN. M comes before N, and something has to be implied before it can be inferred. The implication here is that I believe you’re smart enough to get it right. I hope you infer that from this smiley face. :)

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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