16th October 2014
Word Choice: Imply vs. Infer
The words “imply” and “infer” are often confused. Both are verbs relating to communication, but one refers to the speaker/writer, and the other applies to the listener/reader.
In a conversation, for instance, one person could imply something, while the other would need to infer their meaning. This, in fact, is a good way to remember how these terms should be used: A speaker implies, while a listener infers. Read on to learn more.
Imply (To Suggest)
The verb “imply” means to suggest something through speech or writing without explicitly stating it. It would be used in a sentence like this:
The President implied that he had no intention to introduce the law.
Aside from direct communication, “imply” can also be used when drawing a conclusion that follows from particular situation, as in the sentence:
His suitcase implied that he intended to stay the night.
The word “imply” is occasionally also used to mean “necessitates” or “entails,” as in the sentence:
A vacation to Japan implies air travel.
Infer (Derive by Reasoning)
The verb “infer” means “reach a conclusion based on the evidence presented.” This involves examining clues and making a judgment based on reasoning, rather than on the basis of explicitly stated factual information.
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For example, if you were to ask someone whether chocolate milkshake is the best flavor, the person you’re speaking to could respond by pointing out that there are lots of different flavors of milkshake.
Although this wouldn’t be an explicit rejection of the superiority of chocolate milkshake, we could infer that the other person disagrees (or at least that they also like other kinds of milkshake) based upon what they have said.
What a listener infers is not necessarily what was intended by the speaker. For instance, the listener might interpret what has been said incorrectly.
Imply or Infer?
Whether you need to use ‘imply’ or ‘infer’ in any given situation is all about point of view.
The person speaking or writing is the one doing the implying.
The person listening or reading is the one doing the inferring.
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