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Grammar Mishaps: Imply vs. Infer

Updated on July 25, 2013

Imply: A Definition

  1. To involve by logical necessity; entail: Life implies growth and death.
  2. To express or indicate indirectly: His tone implied anger.
  3. Obsolete To entangle.

implied, implying, implies

Infer: A Definition

  1. To conclude from evidence or premises.
  2. To reason from circumstance; surmise: We can infer that his reason for publishing the article was less than honorable.

  3. To lead to as a consequence or conclusion:
  4. To hint; imply

inferable, inferably, inferrer

What is the difference....exactly?


Infer and imply are often confused, but there is a distinction between the two. When something is implied, it is suggested without being stated outright. When something is inferred, the reader is in control of drawing a conclusion that is not explicitly said. In other words, a writer implies and a reader infers. Another way to explain: information is categorized as a message, a sender and a receiver. The person sending the message implies, while the person receiving the message infers. Here are some examples for further clarification:
  1. The teacher implied that the test would include chapters two and three when she winked at her students while reviewing the contents of those specific chapters.
  2. The students inferred that the test would include chapters two and three because they had reviewed those chapters more than the others.
  1. When I gave you a watch for Christmas, I was implying for you to be more punctual.
  2. She inferred that the watch was a signal to be more punctual.

Thoughts, Comments or Questions?

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    • StuartJ profile image

      StuartJ 3 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      To reply to Omaha, and comment on the hub as a whole, it is true that many dictionaries now give the two words as synonyms. This is a difficult area because the purpose of the dictionaries is to tell us how people actually use words, but they sometimes don't go into much detail about different "registers". An example of a difference in register would be the difference between very formal English and colloquial English.

      For what it is worth, my two cents here is that Robin's drawing of a distinction between the words applies to formal English and is well worth knowing and following if you are writing in a formal context.

      On the other hand in very informal or colloquial English the distinction is not always adhered to. A similar situation is the distinction between "aggravate" and "annoy". In general usage "aggravate" is now often used as "annoy" and is now in the dictionaries in that sense.

      Still, I would argue that "aggravate" in the sense of "annoy" is a very informal or colloquial usage that is not appropriate in more formal contexts.

      Linguists talk about different "registers" of English, which is really another way of talking about different degrees of formality. If I were writing the preamble to a petition to the Governor General I would use much more formal language than I would even if I were writing an academic essay, and so on. And different types of English are appropriate in different registers or contexts.

      I hope this has made the situation more clear than just confuse it more, ;-)

    • profile image

      Omaha 9 years ago

      I'm sorry, but am I the only one reading the full definition of "infer"? I see, under the number 4 use of the word, the definition "to hint; imply". Though I would never use infer this way, it appears to me that you can use the word in the same context as "imply" and still be correct. Food for thought...

    • profile image

      Stevorino 10 years ago

      Robin, a good explanation of the differences between the two often confused words, but I take some issue with a couple of the clarifying examples. The first being the following:

      "When I gave you a watch for Christmas, I was implying for you to be more punctual."

      I suggest that this is a strange construction that sounds off. I don't believe anyone can imply "for" something to be done. You might consider revising.

      Also, under the definition for imply, you use:

      "To express or indicate indirectly: His tone implied anger."

      I would suggest that the tone itself doesn't do the implying. Rather, the speaker, via his or her tone, did so. His tone may have indicated anger, or suggested anger, etc. Anyway. thanks and carry on.

    • profile image

      pudding 10 years ago

      Is this correct?

      RECEIVER: "What are you implying, my good fellow.... well if you won't tell me then I can only infer that this means war!"

      Can you give me an example of when a SENDER would use the words imply and infer

    • DEBASIS profile image

      DEBASIS 11 years ago from bhubaneswar

      very useful for students

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 11 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan