Learn the Difference Between
Imply and Infer
All this week I have run into the word infer mistakenly used to mean imply. I'd like to help everyone get those two words straightened out.
INFER vs. IMPLY
The best way to remember the difference between these two words is to think in terms of the model used by communications theorists. Communication consists of a message, a sender, and a receiver. The sender can imply, but the receiver can only infer. The error that usually occurs is that the word infer is mistakenly used for imply.
WRONG: Are you inferring that I am a fool?
RIGHT: Are you implying that I am a fool?
If someone gets the idea from your behavior that you are a fool, then he is inferring that you are a fool. But if he is subtly letting you know that he thinks so, then he is implying that you are a fool. You, of course, can infer from his implication that he thinks you are a fool.
To imply is to express something indirectly. For
example, you might imply that it’s time for a guest to leave by saying
that you are getting tired. To infer is to surmise or
conclude, especially from indirect evidence. For example, if you were to
tell a guest that you’re getting tired, the guest might infer that it’s
time to leave.
More broadly, infer means to deduce. For example, when the sky grows dark in the middle of the day, you might infer that it’s probably going to storm.
Infer has been used in place of imply so often and for so long that some dictionaries now list it as a synonym of imply in a secondary sense. In edited writing, however, the traditional distinction is usually kept intact.
IMPLY = to put the suggestion into the message (sender implies)
INFER = to take the suggestion out of the message (receiver infers)
IMPLICATION = what the sender has implied
INFERENCE = what the receiver has inferredvideo
Edited by tatee - Jun 05 2014 at 7:37am