We use the verbs infer and imply to describe how the meaning of someone’s words may be understood when that meaning is not exact or hasn’t been made clear.
To infer means to take or deduce meaning from what someone has said or written, even though that meaning hasn’t been expressed explicitly.
To imply means to put meaning into a message indirectly, so again, the meaning hasn’t been expressed explicitly.
Or, put another way:
· When meaning is inferred, the hearer’s or reader’s interpretation of a message may be different from the speaker’s intended meaning.
· When a speaker implies, they impart meaning that may not be what the hearer interprets from the message.
Both terms suggest the possibility that meaning may be uncertain.
Examples of Inferred in a Sentence
Anna told Adam she was leaving. Adam inferred that he’d never see her again.
Anna may have meant she was leaving and coming back soon, but because she didn’t comment on her likely return, Adam inferred that she was never coming back.
Ben said Claire’s idea was unusual, and she inferred that he meant it was a crazy idea.
Sometimes, people don’t say precisely what they mean for fear of offending the listener, but perhaps Ben just meant he’d never heard anything like Claire’s idea before. Again, because he wasn’t explicit, she may have drawn the wrong conclusion.
David’s boss told him to bring her a ton of great ideas. David inferred that she wanted a selection of ideas.
Here, it’s unlikely that the boss really wanted a ton of ideas (her desk would collapse!), so David has most likely inferred correctly.
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Examples of Implied in a Sentence
Emma’s broad smile implied that she was happy to see me.
The sound of several sirens implied that there was an emergency.
The news report implied that the politicians were on opposite sides of the debate.
How to Avoid Confusing Inferred and Implied
For something to be inferred by the listener/reader, it must first have been implied by the speaker/writer.
One way to remember which happens first is to put imply and infer in alphabetical order. An implication has to happen before an inference can.