Imply or Infer?



Magnifying_GlassQuick test: The report inferred/implied that the boy had in fact stolen the cookie from the cookie jar.
Do you know which word is correct?

The report inferred/implied that the boy had in fact stolen the cookie from the cookie jar.

Imply and infer are opposite sides of the same coin, so they are often confused in conversation and writing. It is important to think about who is doing what in a given scenario to determine the correct word.

First, let’s look at a basic definition of the two from Merriam-Webster:

Imply: to express (something) in an indirect way: to suggest (something) without saying or showing it plainly.

Infer: to form (an opinion) from evidence: to reach (a conclusion) based on known facts.

From that simple definition we know the big difference is the type of action. If the case involves two groups, the speaker is usually implying something and the listeners are inferring it. Is someone hinting about a topic instead of saying it? This would mean the person/item in question in implying an action. What about a person determining a meaning from something that was not said? For example, a detective might infer the nature of a crime from the evidence.

This mistake occurs quite often, so take a minute to review some examples and more information about these sly words. Grammar Girl provides some great examples from famous quotes, has some additional example sentences, and even the Oxford Dictionary blog has given time to the oft-confused words.

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. — Carl Sagan

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. — Arthur Conan Doyle

Source: Grammar Girl

He implied that the General had been a traitor.
[presented from the writer’s or speaker’s perspective]

inferred from his words that the General had been a traitor.
[presented from the listener’s perspective]

Source: Oxford Dictionary blog

By their very definition, flea markets imply cheap prices for used and unwanted items, as is still the case in most other places. (New York Times)

He talks about having led in the private sector but voters have to infer too much about what that means. (Slate)


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