A speaker implies but a listener infers

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This post continues examining pairs of words that often troubled or confused writers. The information appeared as an addition in the longer post on anxious vs. eager because imply and infer are pretty distinct. Yet, many writers find these words easy to mix up since their meanings are closely associated. However, imply and infer are opposite.

To imply is to hint at something, to suggest or express indirectly.

To infer is to draw a conclusion or make an educated guess: “You pick up on the message hidden ‘between the lines,’ so to speak,” as Richard Nordquist explains.

His informative post about this pair explains that the difference is in the point of view: the speaker implies and the listener infers. Here are some examples he provides:

I’m sorry that what I said implied a negative opinion about her artwork. I just wasn’t sure what to think at the moment.

If researchers infer conclusions from bad survey data, an entire study might have to be redone because it is not accurate.

To distinguish between imply and infer, Nordquist suggests using this trick:

“Look at the words alphabetically. Imply comes before infer.

The coded message that someone implies needs to come first, before the receiver can decode it and infer its meaning.”

Though some people may feel strongly about their using these words “correctly,” it is not as heated a controversy as others we have discussed, such as anxious vs. eager or alright and all right. In fact, some dictionaries cite infer as a synonym for imply which may imply that language is changing to reflect usage.

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