Imply or Infer?

Our Story

Imply or Infer?

What is the difference between "imply" and "infer"?
  • Imply. "To imply" means to state indirectly or to suggest. For example:
    • John: Are you struggling to stay motivated, Tony?
    • Tony: Are you implying that I am lazy?
    • (This means "Are you suggesting that I am lazy?")
    NB: The talker implies something.
  • Infer. "To infer" means to deduce. For example:
    • Alan: These overalls don't really suit me.
    • Sarah: Should I infer that you are leaving?
    • (This means "Should I deduce that you leaving?")
    NB: The listener infers something.
imply or infer?

Imply

The verb "to imply" means to state indirectly (i.e., to include a suggestion in a message).

Example sentences with "imply":
  • His speech on transitioning to today's needs strongly implies that the typist pool will be made redundant.
  • Would I like a pack of mints? What are you implying? I don't have bad breath, do I?
  • The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite. (Economist Thomas Sowell)

Infer

The verb "to infer" means to deduce (i.e., to extract a suggestion from a message).

Example sentences with "infer":
  • The reader can easily infer that Sarah needs the money but is too proud to ask for charity.
  • Am I right to infer you think my team removed the safety valve? Is that what you're implying?
  • From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. (Writer Arthur Conan Doyle)

Transmitting (Implying) and Receiving (Inferring)

When you imply, you transmit an indirect message. When you infer, you receive the indirect message. What's an indirect message? An indirect message is the one said to be between the lines. For example:
  • Reading between the lines, I infer the MD is content with our performance, but he clearly implies the marketing section needs an overhaul.
What Are You Inferring?


People often ask "What are you inferring?". This is usually wrong. It should be "What are you implying?"

If they're being stroppy, you can slam them with: "Inferring? I don't understand. Oh, I see. I was implying..."
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are adjectives? What are verbs? An or a? List of easily confused words