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‘Imply’ or ‘infer’?


Imply and infer can be easily confused due to their somewhat similar meanings.

Imply means ‘indicate the truth or existence of (something) by suggestion rather than explicit reference’, as in:

The way they all talk about their boss implies that he is not a particularly good leader.

It isn’t just in speech that something can be implied, either:

Her body language and drooping eyelids implied that it was well past her bedtime.

Infer, on the other hand, means to ‘deduce or conclude (something) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements’, as in:

From the facts in this report we can infer that crime has been increasing.

When someone implies something, it is not explicitly stated; it is up to the person receiving the information to interpret it. When someone infers something, they reach a conclusion about something based on the information available, even if the fact has not been stated outright. Thus, both ‘imply’ and ‘infer’ can be used to describe the same event, which may be in part what leads to the common confusion between them.

Here is an example of imply and infer being used to describe the same transfer of information, but from different perspectives:

The solider implied the general was a traitor, without explicitly stating it.

I inferred from the soldier’s careful words and hesitant tone that he believed the general to be a traitor, but was afraid to say so outright.

Try our quick quiz on imply and infer

Read more about imply and infer on the OxfordWords blog.

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