Infer vs. Imply | Difference, Definitions & Examples
- Imply means to express or suggest something indirectly—without explicitly stating it.
- Infer means to draw a conclusion from some evidence—in other words, to pick up on something that was implied.
|Examples: Imply in a sentence||Examples: Infer in a sentence|
|The results imply that further research on this topic should adopt a different approach.||From these data, we infer that the technique is more effective at higher temperatures.|
|A good writer knows how to imply the feelings of their protagonist without spelling them out.||To infer something as serious as that, you need some very solid reasoning.|
|I hope you’re not implying that this is my fault.||Based on Anneli’s disruptive behavior, her teachers inferred she didn’t feel engaged at school.|
What does imply mean?
Imply is most commonly used with a human subject to mean “suggest” or “express indirectly.” As a transitive verb, it needs an object, which is usually either a noun phrase or a statement starting with the conjunction “that.”
When it’s used with a nonhuman subject, imply often means something more like “entail” or “be logically associated with.” It doesn’t indicate that the thing or concept referred to is actively trying to express something, just that we could deduce something from it.
What does infer mean?
Infer means to draw a conclusion or guess at something based on some sort of (typically indirect) evidence. It’s used in formal logic, where consequences are said to be inferred from premises. It’s also used in many other contexts, although it tends to be somewhat formal in tone.
Grammatically, it’s a transitive verb whose object is usually either a statement starting with “that” or a noun phrase.
Is infer ever a synonym of imply?
People sometimes use infer interchangeably with imply, using it to mean “suggest” or “indicate.” Most commentators view this as a stylistic error, since it blurs the distinction between the two words.
Some authorities, such as Merriam-Webster, regard this usage as perfectly fine, since it has a long history (e.g., in Shakespeare: “this doth infer the zeal I had to see him”). They state that the objections to this usage began only in the 20th century.
However, this sense of infer is now rarely seen in published writing and widely regarded as wrong. To avoid any problems, our advice is to maintain a clear distinction between the two words, using imply to mean “suggest” and infer only to mean “deduce.”
Worksheet: Imply vs. infer
You can test your understanding of the difference between “imply” and “infer” with the worksheet below. Fill in a form of either “imply” or “infer” in each sentence.
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Frequently asked questions
- What is a synonym of “imply”?
- Hint (at)
Infer is sometimes used as a synonym of imply. While some authorities see this as an acceptable use of infer, it’s mostly frowned upon. We recommend against using infer in this sense.
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