Grammar Guerilla: Imply And Infer

Guerilla-GorillaThese two words are closely related in meaning but they are distinct in their subjects and yet people regularly confuse them. In general the speaker or writer implies and the reader or hearer infers. An implication is a suggestion something without expressly stating it. E.g., “The teacher implied that there would be an exam.” An inference is a a deduction drawn by a reader or a hearer. An inference may be drawn from facts or data or claims about a matter.

These words are most often confused by using the verb infer to describe what a speaker or writer is doing, e.g., “You just said that Steph Curry is a better shooter than Michael Jordan. You’re inferring that he is the best offensive guard in the history of the NBA.” No, the speaker may have implied something about Steph Curry but he did not infer it. The listener or reader is the one inferring. “From the history and statistics you are reciting, am I right to infer that you think that Steph Curry is the best shooting guard in the history of the NBA?” One could also ask, “Are you implying that Steph Curry is the best shooting guard in the history of the NBA?”

The sense of the words is close. The principal distinction lies in the subject of the verb. To infer belongs to readers and hearers and to imply belongs to speakers and writers. We should use them correctly to signal clearly who is performing the action. When we abuse these words we are confusing and thus we are not communicating clearly and succinctly.

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