Imply versus Infer
People tend to use imply and infer interchangeably and it’s easy to see why there might be some confusion. Both words are the same length and start with the same letter, and while imply and infer are loosely related, the two words should be used in different situations.
- Imply means to hint at something.
- Infer means to make an educated guess based on that hint.
Implying is done by the speaker while inferring is done by the listener.
Let’s explore these definitions in more detail.
When to Use Imply in a Sentence
Imply Meaning: Imply is a verb that means to say, demonstrate, or suggest something indirectly or to hint at something without expressly saying it.
Example: “Trump revealed that he talked to the Ukrainian leader about former Vice President Joe Biden and that he implied to Zelensky that Biden and Biden’s son were corrupt.” [verb] Source: USA Today
Example: “I’m afraid that might imply absorbing the abuse would somehow be OK if kids weren’t around to witness it.” [verb] Source: Detroit Free Press
Example: The professor didn’t mean to imply that some of the exam questions would come from the footnotes. [verb]
The speaker or writer does the implying.
When to Use Infer in a Sentence
Infer Meaning: Infer, like imply, is a verb. Infer means the act of making an assumption based on clues or hints received.
Example: “At a more general level, this work is a step towards being able to infer an individual’s anatomy based on their DNA.” [verb] Source: CNN
Example: “He didn’t say so, but you can infer that he agrees with most pundits who called Clinton the winner.” [verb] Detroit Free Press
Example: I was able to infer the meaning from the graph. [verb]
As you can see from the examples, inferring is something that the listener does. They reach a conclusion from information that they are indirectly given.
Imply or Infer? How to Know Which One to Use
The best way to remember whether you should use imply or infer is to think of it as two sides of the same coin of conversation.
By this, I mean,
- Speakers make implications.
- Listeners make inferences.
Test Your Skills:
It’s time to test your knowledge. Can you determine whether to use imply or infer in each of these sentences?
- We smelled a terrible odor and _____________ that a skunk was nearby.
- Sandy began business suits to work, but she didn’t mean to __________ that she was seeing a promotion.
- Tom bragged about his college degree and ________ that he was smarter than everyone else.
- Rick told us he was going to the nightclub last night, so it was easy to ____________ that he was hungover when he called in sick to work this morning.
- I certainly didn’t mean to __________ that I was snooping on his social media accounts.
Answers listed below.
Recap: Knowing the Difference Between Imply and Infer
Imply and infer do not mean the same thing.
- Imply is information that a speaker or writer suggests without explicitly stating it.
- Infer is knowledge that the listener or reader assumes by reading between the lines or using educated guesses from the information that was provided.