Word Confusion: Imply versus Infer

Posted December 11, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

For as complex as I thought this word confusion would be, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I was wrong. Yeah, most of the time I hate to find out I’m wrong! Not this time. This time I was quite happy. So, I’m implying that this is a piece of cake…*grin*…

Imply and infer are the same thing in that an indirect message is involved. It simply depends on who is speaking and who is listening: the speaker implies, providing suggestions, and the listener infers, deduces, reasons based on what he has heard.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Imply Infer
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Expression of the Emotions Figure 14” by Mr. T. W. Wood (“I am also greatly indebted to Mr. T. W. Wood for the extreme pains which he has taken in drawing from life the expressions of various animals.” – p. 26) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This dog’s expression implies a ferocity I don’t want to challenge.

Manhole cover in Zeeuws Vlaanderen

“Manhole Cover in Zeeuws Vlaanderen” is Charles01’s own work under the CC-BY-SA-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Upon seeing a manhole cover in a street, one can infer that there are drainage tunnels beneath the surface.

Part of Grammar:
Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: implies
Past tense or past participle: implied
Gerund or present participle: implying

Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: infers
Past tense or past participle: inferred
Gerund or present participle: inferring

Speaker implies

Indicate indirectly

Strongly suggest the truth or existence of something not expressly stated

  • [Of a fact or occurrence] Suggest something as a logical consequence
Listener infers

Received the implication, message

Deduce or conclude information from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements
The salesman who uses jargon to imply his superior knowledge.

The report implies that two million jobs might be lost.

The forecasted traffic increase implied more roads and more air pollution.

From these facts we can infer that crime has been increasing.

From what George said, we can infer that the Christmas bonus will be substantial.

Noun: implication
Verb, transitive: reimply, reimplied, reimplying, superimply, superimplied
Adjective: inferable, inferrable
History of the Word:
Late Middle English is from the Old French emplier, which is from the Latin implicare, from in- (in + plicare, meaning to fold). The original sense was entwine, entangle.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the word also meant employ.

Late 15th century in the sense of bring about, inflict from the Latin inferre meaning bring in, bring about from the medieval Latin deduce, from in- (into + ferre, meaning bring).

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“A woman skier making up her face amid the snow gums”, c. 1930s by Sam Hood is from the State Library of New South Wales collection and is in the public domain with no restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons.