Imply vs. Infer: What’s the Difference?

These two words are actually quite different in their meanings and in the subject who commits the act itself. Yet despite their differences, they are regularly confused with one another. This is understandable, however. These words aren’t used too much in everyday conversation, and they are somewhat similar in their sound and function. They are both four letters, they both start with an “I,” and they both are verbs.

So in today’s post I want to compare imply vs. infer, show you how they are different through examples, and give you a few ways to easily keep track of them for the future. After reading this post, you won’t ever confuse the two again.

When to Use Imply

inferred vs impliedImply is a verb and is defined as “to express or state indirectly.” For example,

  • He implied that he needed some help.
  • She implied that she was in a hurry to get somewhere.
  • Their fancy clothes implied they were wealthy.

To imply something is to hint or suggest something, but not to directly say it. It is the more assertive, more active of the two. The word imply is derived from an Old French word that meant “to enfold,” and this is a good way to think about it. An implied statement is hidden, and not directly stated, as a message folded into an envelope would be.

Speakers and writers imply things. For example, in character development for novels, short stories, or even movies, an author will oftentimes imply which character is the bad one without ever saying it directly. From there it is up to the reader to infer.

When to Use Infer

imply or infer grammarInfer is also a verb and is defined as “to conclude from evidence of by reasoning.” For example,

  • I inferred from your look that you wanted me to leave.
  • You can infer from the crime scene that a gun was used.
  • If you see someone staggering along the sidewalk, you may infer that he is drunk.

To infer something is to deduce or conclude something as a result of something unsaid or indirectly said. Infer is derived from a Latin word that means to “bring in,” and this is a good way to think about it. A reader or listener is “bringing in” a meaning that isn’t directly stated or intentionally left ambiguous.

As such, readers and listeners infer things. To use our above example, an author may imply that which character is the bad one through his words or actions, but it is up to the reader to infer this about the character.

Problem Situations

It can get confusing with these two words, however, because they can, and oftentimes do, describe the same situation. Imply and infer can describe the same event but from different angles.

For example, if you are listening to a speaker, he may imply something to the audience. You then take his implication and infer something about it. So the acts of implying and inferring are both taking place, but from different vantage points. The speaker is doing the implying, and you are doing the inferring.

Remember the Difference

Here are a few good ways to keep track of these two words.

To imply something is similar to making an implicit statement, and both imply and implicit start with “im.”

A reader is someone who infers, and both words have an “r” in them.

Summary

These two words can be used to describe the same event, but not the same action, so it’s important to use infer vs. imply carefully.

Imply is to suggest something indirectly.

Infer is to conclude something based on evidence or reasoning.