Using Infer and Imply

Grammar Help

By Annette Rey

A difference exists between the words infer and imply. Labels of parts of speech can be confusing – transitive verb, intransitive verb, adjective, etc. – so I am doing away with those terms, and simply looking at how the words are used.

The examples presented should be extremely helpful for polishing your writing.

Infer – Reading an indirect meaning into a statement, or suspecting or deducing an underlying meaning.

Imply – Saying something indirectly, or imparting a hidden meaning.

Bill says, “The icy driving conditions were probably hard for you.”

The listener could infer from this that Bill is assuming her driving is inferior, or that she is cowardly.

The same sentence – Bill says, “The icy driving conditions were probably hard for you.”

Bill could be implying to the listener that her driving skills are inferior, or she is cowardly.

Keep in mind, this statement may just be declaring fact without underlying meaning or intention by the speaker. Bill could simply be observing that weather conditions made driving difficult. He, also, could be implying empathy to the listener as he understands what it feels like to drive on icy roadways.

A speaker can also seem to imply a salacious meaning, or romantic meaning, as in: “Your body build allowed you to perform that task.” The listener could infer the speaker is flirting when, in fact, the speaker only made an observation. Perhaps the load was heavy and the person appeared strongly built. Perhaps agility was a factor and the person is lean.

People can be overly sensitive and read into a statement (infer) an underlying meaning. A speaker may intend to send a message beyond the words he uses (imply).

Inferring can come from personal insecurity or distrust of the person speaking. Or, the speaker may be including body language – a wink, a tone of voice, a facial expression – that makes the listener suspicious of the actual words spoken.

A few sentences using infer and imply can be:

  • Betty didn’t like what John said and inferred his comment to be nasty.
  • You can also use the word inference, as in: Betty detected a nasty inference in John’s remark.
  • Josh flirted with Amy and implied he’d like to date her.
  • You inferred that Bill had implied something negative when he said, “Your writing is okay.”

The points I am trying to make are:

Inferring comes from the listener.

Implying comes from the speaker.

This explanation should help you use the correct word when you are creating sentences. Your writing goals should focus on word choice so your readers know exactly what you are saying to them.

Create a few sentences using infer and imply and share them with me. Practice makes perfect.

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