Imply and Infer

By Jacquelyn Landis

If you have trouble choosing between imply and infer, you’re not alone. Many writers switch them even though they have distinct meanings.

To imply is to suggest or express indirectly. To infer is to draw a conclusion. However, you’ll frequently see something like this:

The news story inferred that the defendant was guilty.

Even though some dictionaries support infer as a synonym for imply, the distinction is important. Without it, the meaning of the above example is unclear. Did the news story draw the conclusion that the defendant was guilty? Or did it simply suggest it? You really can’t tell for certain, can you?

When you’re striving for clarity in writing, it’s critical to use the right words. In the case of imply and infer, it helps to remember that the speaker implies and the listener infers.

3 Responses to “Imply and Infer”

  • Cecily

    “If you see a man staggering along the road you may infer that he is drunk, without saying a word; but if you say ‘Had one too many?’ you do not infer, but imply, that he is drunk.” (A P Herbert)

  • Rod

    Now I get it straight, thanks,

  • Precise Edit

    People will communicate more clearly when they use the correct words, i.e., words that mean what they are trying to communicate. Good reminders, Jacquelyn. Thanks!

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