Imply or Infer?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Imply" and "Infer"?

"Imply" and "infer" are easy to confuse because they both relate to translating words for their true meaning.

"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? correct tick
  • (This means "Are you suggesting that I am lazy?")

The talker implies something.

"Infer" means to deduce.

For example:
  • Alan: These overalls don't really suit me.
  • Sarah: Should I infer that you are leaving? correct tick
  • (This means "Should I deduce that you leaving?")

The listener infers something.

imply or infer?


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. correct tick
  • Would I like a pack of mints? What are you implying? I don't have bad breath, do I? correct tick
  • The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite. correct tick (Economist Thomas Sowell)


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.correct tick
  • Am I right to infer you think my team removed the safety valve? Is that what you're implying? correct tick
  • 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. correct tick (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. correct tick

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..."

Ready for the Test?

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