Today I’d like to give a little refresher course on two sets of similar words that can be a little tricky. Here we go:
Imply vs. Infer
To imply means to suggest or indicate something without actually saying so:
- After David tasted the wine, the look on his face implied that he didn’t like it.
- The tone of Gloria’s voice implied that she was upset with David’s decision to leave the party early.
To infer means to conclude based on evidence:
- From the look on David’s face after he tasted the wine, Gloria inferred that he didn’t like it.
- Given the tone of Gloria’s voice, it wasn’t difficult for David to infer that she was upset with his decision to leave the party early.
I find that a good way to remember the difference between the two is that imply (has an M) comes before infer (has an N), just like M comes before N. You need an implication before you can have 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.”
Refer vs. Recommend
To refer (used with an object) means to direct someone (to something):
- Gloria referred David to her real estate agent.
- David’s family doctor referred him to a specialist named Dr. Greene.
To recommend means to mention favorably:
- Gloria recommended her real estate agent to David.
- David’s family doctor recommended a specialist named Dr. Greene.
If you’re still having trouble with these two, here’s a handy trick: In a letter of recommendation, you’re being praised. In a doctor’s referral, you’re being directed somewhere.
If you want people to recommend your books or refer their friends to your work, you will infer from this post that correct word usage is important!
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