Infer vs. Imply: Are You Aware of the Difference?

Infer vs. Imply: Are You Aware of the Difference?

We’ve been covering and differentiating word pairings that confuse a lot of people. We have, for instance, clarified the differences between bear with me and bare with me, as well as good night vs goodnight.

We’re going to look at a word pairing that seems to have the same meaning even when they’re not. Just to give you a clue, they both relate to indirect information. What’s more, they both refer to unspoken communication. You can think of this particular word pairing as the opposite sides of a single coin.

Let’s take a closer look at infer vs imply and see just how they’re different.

What is the Difference Between Infer and Imply?

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Let’s first learn the meaning of imply and infer — both elements of communication.

The definition of imply is to express something indirectly. You get the word “imply” from implication, which means a conclusion that a person can draw from something that is not explicitly stated.

If you are implying something in a conversation, you could be attempting to discuss a tough issue delicately. You may be circumventing it, hoping that your listener will eventually understand what you are really trying to say without you having to give a lot of explicit descriptions and uncomfortable details.

Here’s an example: let’s say you are in a group. You want to say something, so that only a single person in the group understands the situation. You then send a veiled message.

Alternatively, you could say one thing with words, but your facial expressions or actions could be telling a different story. This implies your real feelings or truth on the subject.

You imply when you imbue your statements with additional meaning not stated explicitly. This does not have to be in a spoken conversation. You can craft your implications through carefully chosen phrasing and figurative language.

On the other hand, the definition of infer is to read a message to understand the deeper meaning. You get the word “infer” from inference, which means a conclusion reached based on reasoning and evidence.

You pick up on the meaning concealed between the lines, so to speak. What’s more, you deduce the actual message from the symbolism, allegory or metaphor in a story you’re reading. Another possibility is that you check the body language cues that a person is giving you to arrive at the conclusion.

Here’s an example situation:  a glance at the wall clock along with a raised eyebrow from your spouse or friend during a party may mean, “Can we leave the party? I’m bored.” You come up with an educated guess by looking at the data available to you.

How to Use Infer and Imply in a Sentence

Remember that infer means to conclude something based on reasoning or evidence. This is similar to the word “deduce.”

As such, listeners and readers infer things. An author, for example, may imply that a particular character in a story is an antagonist through their actions or words. The reader, however, has to be the one to infer this about the character.

Here are a couple of examples that use the word infer:

  • If you find someone staggering along the street, you may infer that they’re drunk.
  • I inferred from your glance that you want me out of this room.

Now, let’s take a look at imply. Remember that this word means to state or express something indirectly.  This word originates from an old French word that meant to enfold — and this is an excellent way to think about it.

Take a look at these two examples that use the word imply:

  • Their designer clothes implied they were rich.
  • His actions implied that he was in a hurry to get to his destination.

How to Remember Infer and Imply

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The confusion in the infer vs imply word pairing comes from not understanding what the words mean. So you need to remember the definition for each one.

You could use the following mnemonic devices as a guide:

  • If you’re trying to remember the word imply, take a look at the letter p. Often, when a person is implying something, it’s a passive move. The word “passive” begins with the letter p.
  • If you’re trying to remember the word infer, use the letter f. You make an inference by taking note of the facts, which also begins with the letter f.

Can You Ace This Imply vs Infer Quiz?

Let’s see if you now know the difference between infer and imply, two commonly confused words in the English language.

Choose with the correct word on the following sentences:

  1. This did (infer, imply) a major change in the province’s power structure.
  2. Spontaneity doesn’t (infer, imply) that the reaction proceeds with great speed.
  3. Strong universality does (infer, imply) uniformity.
  4. Not all stages will happen in all cases: The list doesn’t (infer, imply) a particular sequence of events.
  5. Tell me what it is that you can (infer, imply) from this scenario?

Is it infer or imply? The answer will boil down to understanding what you want to express. Choose infer if you are making a conclusion. On the other hand, pick imply if you’re making an indirect statement.

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