Imply and Infer are two separate terms in the English language that are used for indicating transmission of information.
Imply vs Infer
The main difference between Infer and Imply is that Infer is concerned with receiving the information implicit in a statement or a gesture. Imply is concerned with indirectly conveying something through a statement or a gesture. It is the speaker who does the task of implying. While inferring is the task of the listener.
The meaning of ‘Imply’ is to refer to something implicitly rather than explicitly. It is also used to describe something as the logical outcome of a particular fact or an event. For example:
- She didn’t imply anything wrong when she said that.
- The forecast of cyclone implied the destruction of lives and properties.
‘Infer’ on the other hand means to conclude something from the provided information and evidences rather than from direct and clear-cut statements. To infer something, one needs to read between the lines. For example; from the given facts we can infer that the world climate is changing.
Both are used as verbs and trace their origin in Latin. However, the relationship between the two words is like throwing and catching that is they are opposite to each other.
A Detective, for example, may imply to the public that is to suggest indirectly that he/she knows, who the actual murderer is. But on his/ her own, he/she has to infer or deduce who is the actual murderer based on the evidences and information available to him/her.
Comparison Table Between Imply and Infer (in Tabular Form)
|Parameter of Comparison||Imply||Infer|
|Meaning||It means to indicate something implicitly.||It means to deduce something implicit.|
|Type of Verb||Transitive||Transitive as well as Intransitive.|
|Actors||Speakers or Writers or Performer of any action.||Sensitive Listeners or Readers or Observers of actions.|
|Related to||Both non-living and living things.||Subjects with consciousness, that is to say, only human beings.|
|Synonyms||Indicate, Signify, Signal||Deduce, Conclude, Surmise|
What is meant by Imply?
It means to express a statement or a truth indirectly. It is also used to refer to something as the logical result of a particular statement of fact. The term is mainly derived from the French term emplier which in turn is derived from the Latin word implicare meaning ‘entwine’. It follows that the term is used to refer to something that is ‘entwined’ in a particular statement.
In sentence construction, it is mainly used as a verb and the objective is to convey something. The conveyor may be a living thing or a non- living thing. For example:
- She just shrugged her shoulders to imply that she didn’t want any further discussion on the topic.
- He didn’t intend to imply that there is something wrong with the way you lead your life.
- The presence of chipped stones implies that people used to come here to make tools.
- The presence of smoke implies that a fire has broken out somewhere.
As a transitive verb, it is used in three ways:
- Of a proposition: to have as an inevitable outcome. For example; the proposition that all cats are mammal indicates that my cat is also a mammal.
- Of a person: to argue by logical reasoning. For example; when it is stated that my cat is black, it does not mean that all cats are black.
- Of a person or proposition: to hint at something without directly stating it. For example:
- X: One should be more careful with hygiene.
- Y: Are you implying that I am not careful?
What is meant by Infer?
It means to conclude or figure out something that implicitly expressed in a given statement, information or evidence. If ‘imply’ is about conveying something, infer is concerned with grasping or understanding something. Thus, if imply is concerned with transmitting a piece of information, infer is related to receiving that information.
The term has been derived from the Latin term inferre which means ‘to bring about or bring in’. In medieval times, it came to adopt the meaning ‘deduce’.
In sentence construction, it is used as a verb and the objective is to understand something. For example:
- She inferred that he didn’t like her appearance.
- I inferred from his manner that he wanted to say something but couldn’t.
Infer can be used as a transitive word as well as an intransitive verb.
As a Transitive verb, it can be used in four ways:
- To derive by reasoning: We see smoke and infer fire.
- To surmise: From my father’s letter, I could infer that everything is good at home.
- To recognise: I waited all day to meet her. From this you can infer my zeal to see her.
- To hint: He did not participate in the debate except to ask questions inferring that he was not interested in the debate.
As an Intransitive Verb, it is used to refer to the act of concluding .e.g. the researchers have observed, reasoned and inferred to reach the following results.
For a long time until the First World War, ‘infer’ was used in a sense that was close to the meaning of ‘imply’. Since then, its meaning ‘to indicate or hint’ has been repeatedly condemned as it blurs the line of distinction between ‘imply’ and ‘infer’. This controversy has limited the usage of the ‘hint or suggest’ meaning of ‘infer’ to only informal prose and letters to the editor. Its usage is strictly prohibited in academic discourses.
Main Differences Between Imply and Infer
- Both the terms are related to communication of implicit or hidden information. While ‘imply’ is related to sending that information. ‘Infer’ is related to receiving that information.
- Both are used as verbs. But ‘imply’ can only be used as a transitive verb. While ‘infer’ can be used as both transitive and intransitive verb.
- ‘Implying’ is done by a speaker or a writer or a performer of actions. While ‘inferring’ is done by a sensitive listener or a reader or an observer of actions.
- Living as well as non- living things can ‘imply’ something. But ‘inferring’ is related to understanding which requires consciousness and that is present only in human beings. In other words, ‘inferring’ can be done only by human beings.
- Some of the major synonyms of ‘imply’ are ‘indicate’, ‘signify’ and ‘signal’. While ‘deduce’, ‘conclude’ and ‘surmise’ are some of the major synonyms of ‘infer’.
Imply and Infer are some of the most common words that are often misunderstood and thereby, mistakenly used. This happens because of their close association and their common use to refer to something implicit.
However to ensure the correct use of the terms, one needs to understand the nature of their relationship. The relationship between Imply and Infer is equivalent to that of the relationship between a speaker and a listener or a writer and a reader. The former means to convey something implicitly while the latter means to grasp the implicit meaning of a particular statement.
It is interesting to note that Infer and Imply were used in their contemporary meaning for the first time by Sir Thomas More in 1528.