Imply and Infer

It is the word “infer” that is commonly misused by English speakers. Imply is generally used correctly, but infer is often used in its place. If you are one of those who uses infer incorrectly, you may wonder what the difference is between infer and imply.

Imply and infer are opposites. Implying is what the speaker does, and inferring is what the hearer does. To imply is to indicate something indirectly. To infer is to conclude something that has not been said directly.

One common way “infer” is misused is when someone issues a veiled accusation. For example, on a TV show, a detective might ask someone if he has a witness to back up his alibi. Of course, such a question implies that the alibi isn't true. The accused person might ask, “What are you inferring?” but that would be wrong. The detective is not inferring anything because you don't infer when you speak, you infer when you listen. When you're speaking, you imply. Thus, when the detective asks the question, he is implying that the suspect is lying. At some time earlier, when the detective was considering the case and drawing conclusions, then he was inferring. However, later, when he dropped a hint with his question, he was implying.

For some reason the ability to properly differentiate between implication and inference has become an indication of a good education. So, use “infer” correctly in a job interview, and you will imply that you are well-educated. Hopefully, your interviewer will be educated enough himself to infer what you have implied.