Infer vs. Imply | Difference, Definitions & Examples

Imply and infer are two transitive verbs that are commonly confused. Their meanings are closely related, but they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

  • 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.
Tip
If you struggle to differentiate between the two words, it’s useful to think of implying as an act of giving information and inferring as an act of receiving information. When you imply something and I infer something from what you said, you’re giving information to me.

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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.”

Examples: Imply to mean suggest
I’m not implying anything negative. Please just take my words at face value.

My boss implied that I’ll get a raise soon if I keep up the good work.

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.

Examples: Imply to indicate a logical connection
Smoke implies fire.

These arguments imply some conclusions that we didn’t anticipate and can’t accept.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Note
The noun implication(s) is related to imply. Something that is implied is an implication. The adjective implicit is also related. It’s the opposite of “explicit.”

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.

Examples: Infer in a sentence
I’ve already inferred from your facetious comments that you aren’t taking this seriously.

During the experiment, we aimed to infer participants’ emotional responses from their facial affect.

Note
The noun inference(s) is related to infer. An inference is the act of inferring, or something that is inferred. Some other related words (both very rarely used) are the adjective inferable (possible to infer) and the noun inferrer (someone who infers).

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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.”

Example: Infer vs. imply
  • I don’t mean to infer that you’re lazy, but I would like you to help out more.
  • I don’t mean to imply that you’re lazy, but I would like you to help out more.

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.

  1. From the presence of smoke, we can ______ that there is a fire nearby.
  2. Are you ______ that I’m to blame for this?
  3. The identity of the killer is never explicitly stated, but it’s strongly _____ at the end of the story.
  4. This test allows experts to _____ the presence of the disease from a small DNA sample.
  5. I think Phil dislikes me. He never says so, but his attitude certainly _____ it.
  1. From the presence of smoke, we can infer that there is a fire nearby.
    • This sentence is talking about the act of deducing something from some evidence, so it uses “infer.”
  1. Are you implying that I’m to blame for this?
    • This person is asking about something that hasn’t been explicitly stated but may have been suggested, so they use “imply.”
  1. The identity of the killer is never explicitly stated, but it’s strongly implied at the end of the story.
    • Again, this is referring to an element of a story that is implicit rather than explicit, so it can be said that the author “implies” it.
  1. This test allows experts to infer the presence of the disease from a small DNA sample.
    • This sentence is about drawing a conclusion from physical evidence, so “infer” is correct.
  1. I think Phil dislikes me. He never says so, but his attitude certainly implies it.
    • Here, Phil’s attitude is said to “imply” his aversion to the speaker.

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

Frequently asked questions

What is a synonym of “imply”?

Some synonyms and near synonyms of the transitive verb imply are:

  • Entail
  • Hint (at)
  • Indicate
  • Insinuate
  • Intimate
  • Suggest

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.

What is a synonym of “infer”?

Some synonyms and near synonyms of the transitive verb infer are:

  • Ascertain
  • Conclude
  • Deduce
  • Derive
  • Draw the conclusion
  • Extrapolate
  • Gather
  • Guess
  • Reason
  • Surmise
  • Understand

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Caulfield, J. (2023, February 05). Infer vs. Imply | Difference, Definitions & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/commonly-confused-words/infer-vs-imply/

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.