Imply vs. Infer

Commonly Confused Words

A speaker implies. A listener infers.

The verbs imply and infer are easily confused because their meanings are closely associated. Put simply, a writer or speaker implies (or suggests) something; a reader or listener infers (or deduces).

See the usage notes below. Also see:


  • The manager implied that I was a bad risk. I inferred from her remarks that she thought I was lazy.
  • "I didn't mean to imply that I didn't like it. On the contrary, I think it's beautiful. It's just different, that's all."
    (P.C. Cast, Goddess of Spring. Penguin, 2004)
  • "When questions offer fixed alternatives, interviewers are instructed to get the respondents themselves to choose an answer; interviewers are not supposed to infer which answer respondents probably would want to give."
    (R.M. Groves et al., Survey Methodology. Wiley, 2009)

Usage Notes

  • "In a sense, these two words can be thought of as the opposite sides of a single coin. Imply means "to indicate without stating" or "to express indirectly." Infer means "to draw a conclusion." Thus, what a writer may imply, a reader may infer."
    (Adrienne Robins, The Analytical Writer: A College Rhetoric, 2nd ed. Collegiate Press, 1996)
  • Zack: You know, I saw this great thing on the Discovery Channel. Turns out that if you kill a starfish, it'll just come back to life.
    Sheldon: Was the starfish wearing boxer shorts? Because you might have been watching Nickelodeon.
    Zack: No, I'm almost sure that it was the Discovery Channel. It was a great show. They also said dolphins might be smarter than people.
    Leonard: They might be smarter than some people.
    Zack: Maybe we can do an experiment to find out.
    Sheldon: That's easy enough. We need a large tank of water, a hoop to jump through, and a bucket of whatever bite-sized treats you find tasty.
    Zack: I don't get it.
    Leonard: A dolphin might.
    Zack: Oh, I see. You guys are inferring that I'm stupid.
    Sheldon: That's not correct. We were implying it. You then inferred it.
    (Brian Smith, Jim Parsons, and Johnny Galecki in "The Justice League Recombination."The Big Bang Theory, 2010)
  • "You think it's being a pedant to insist on a difference between imply, 'to hint,' and infer, 'to draw a conclusion from'? (Correct: I infer that you are implying I am a pedant.)"
    (William Safire, "Whitewaterese." The New York Times, August 28, 1994)

Practice Exercise

(a) The reporters _____ in this article that an employee started the fire in the furniture store.

(b) I _____ from the article that the police have a suspect.

Answers to Practice Exercise

(a) The reporters imply in this article that an employee started the fire in the furniture store.

(b) I infer from the article that the police have a suspect.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Imply vs. Infer." ThoughtCo, May. 1, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, May 1). Imply vs. Infer. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Imply vs. Infer." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 16, 2018).