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Infer vs. Imply?

What’s the difference between infer vs imply? To start, they’re two different words with distinct meanings—so be sure not to confuse them in writing.

Last updated on February 12th, 2024 at 08:12 pm



Infer vs. imply

Infer and imply are distinct words with opposite meanings—be sure not to confuse them in conversation or writing.

When we infer, we “form an opinion about something that is based on information that you already have.” (MacMillan Dictionary, infer.) E.g., “You can infer the meaning of the word from the context of the rest of the sentence.”

To imply, on the other hand, is “‍to suggest that something is true or that you feel or think something, without saying so directly“. E.g., “I disliked the implied criticism in his voice”.


What are “inferences”?

Inferences and our capacity to make them is its own branch in philosophy and logic. Deductive, abductive and inductive reasoning all have to do with the ability to draw conclusions based on inferences that are made in an argument. For example, to use deductive reasoning would be to make an inference based on generally accepted premises, and infer a conclusion from those grounds.

If you are a man, you are mortal.

Jack is a man; therefore, Jack is mortal



Here, the fact that Joe is a man is deduced from other generally accepted truths, i.e., all men are mortal; Joe is a man; therefore, Joe is mortal.

When to use “infer” vs “imply”

These words are easily confused with each other, and it could have something to do with the fact that both are mental processes that can take place amid conversation. Let’s break down the use cases of both words to better understand their differences and distinct meaning:

Imply—to imply something, is to hint at it without explicitly stating it or addressing it head-on. Another way to put this is that implying something is a way of indirectly saying something. This can happen through body language, tone of voice or the specific words and message a person communicates during conversation.

Let’s look at some examples:

1. The reporter’s article implied the CEO was not completely innocent in the company’s scandal.

2. Are you implying that my son cheated on his test?

3. I didn’t mean to imply that your grasp on grammar is bad.

See how in both of the example sentences above, imply could technically be replaced with the phrase ‘indirectly says’ or ‘indirectly states’ and still get the same message across. Both sentences communicate that something was not expressly stated or mentioned, but rather it was hinted at or suggested implicitly. In other words, it was implied, which is the past simple tense of the base verb imply.

The verb infer works differently. To infer something, or to make an inference, is to arrive at a conclusion based on information presented or gathered. We infer based on what others say, or what evidence suggests. To imply is active, and is something we sometimes do in speaking or communicating with others; despite perhaps not being aware of this ourselves. To infer is often more passive in the regard that we receive information, and can infer or make an inference on those grounds.

Examples of sentences that use “imply”

1. I didn’t mean to imply that your grasp on grammar is bad.

2. He didn’t make any promises, but he did imply that he’d be back for the holidays.

3. Even at face value, well-intentioned repairs surely imply why repairs were necessary. (Chicago Tribune)

4. But the inclusion of the term “migration” was not meant to imply a general federal power to restrict migration, but was a euphemism intended to bolster the pretense that the Constitution did not endorse slavery. (Washington Post)

5. I’m not implying anything about your cooking, but could we eat out tonight?

6. I detected an implied criticism of the way he was treated.

7. Don’t be like that salesman who uses jargon to imply his superior knowledge.

8. Jessica tried to imply that she did not want to work this weekend, but was not clear enough, so she was put on the schedule.

9. Are you implying that the team cheated?

10. His statement does not necessarily imply acceptance.

Examples of sentences that use “infer”

1. You can infer the meaning of the word from the context of the rest of the sentence.

2. You can infer which variable affects which outcome.

3. And perhaps we may infer that no similar attempt can be more successful.

4. Can we then infer any certainty at all?

5. Am I right to infer that you think my grammar is bad?

6. We inferred that he’d be back before the holidays because he didn’t leave with enough luggage for a long trip.

7. Current technology uses radars on satellites to infer wind speeds, and both sending and receiving these signals is a more costly process. (NBC-2)

8. Her appearance led them to infer that she was very wealthy.

9. Then I think we must infer from what they said that they believe we should reapply for the job.

10. They were able to infer from her sad look that she didn’t get the job.

Synonyms for “imply”

  • Hint
  • Suggest
  • Insinuate
  • Connote
  • Denote
  • Betoken
  • Presuppose
  • Point to

Synonyms for “infer”

  • Guess
  • Ascertain
  • Assume
  • Intuit
  • Deduce
  • Derive
  • Figure out
  • Glean
  • Speculate
  • Surmise
  • Suppose
  • Think
  • Read between the lines
  • Read into
  • Draw inference
  • Arrive at
  • Conclude
  • Conjecture
  • Stipulate
  • Induce
  • Gather
  • Collect

Origin of infer/imply

The verb infer derives from the Latin inferre, “to carry in, enter, introduce, inflict.”

The verb imply derives from the Latin implicāre.

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In review

To infer is to deduce or come to a conclusion based on evidence or information presented. To imply is to insinuate or suggest something, either through tone of voice, body language and/or choice of words during conversation or text.

Sources

  1. Synonyms for infer
  2. Synonyms for imply
  3. Definition for infer
  4. Transitive verbs
  5. Etymology of infer
  6. Etymology of imply

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