Feb 25, 2014
Grammar Hammer: When Do You Imply or Infer?
I was having dinner with some friends one night. At the end of our meal, the host excused himself from the table and left for a few minutes. When he returned, he had changed into his pajamas and was walking through the house, flossing his teeth. I inferred it was time to say goodnight to my host and head home for the evening. I got the hint. Granted, that wasn’t a very subtle hint, but nevertheless, I got it. If I was trying to wrap up an evening (i.e., I’m tired and ready for everyone to leave), I would have opted for a more subtle approach. I would have started yawning, implying that I was beyond tired and hoping everyone got the hint that it was time to say goodnight. I’d wait until everyone left before changing into my jammies.
Are infer and imply interchangeable if the intended meaning is whether or not you “get the hint?” Once again, we look at the common vernacular, and it is increasingly accepted either way. But, that’s not the point of this post, is it? This is why we fight.
To imply is to indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated (using my example above, I’m tired, so I start yawning a lot to subtly state that I’m ready for you to leave so I can to go to sleep).
To infer is to derive by reasoning; conclude or judge from premises or evidence (my host left the dinner table and changed into his PJ’s – time to go).
Here are a couple of quick tips to help you keep these two straight:
- Writers or speakers imply. Listeners or readers infer.
- A circle of communication has three parts – sender, message, and receiver. The sender can imply, but only the receiver can infer.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.