“Imply” vs. “Infer”- When to use which?

Confusing word pairs are not uncommon in the English language. In fact, even the best of writers fall prey to such muddles! One such word pair, which gives a hard time to many, is imply and infer.

Imply means to say something without actually saying it. Infer means to conclude something based on the information received.

Both the verbs mean very different things; they describe an action from different angles, just like borrow and lend or throw and catch.

But inevitably, we often confuse one with the other! Relatable much?

Don’t worry. We are here to make sure that you avoid this mix-up!

Imply

When you suggest something indirectly, you imply. It is done either by the speaker or someone who is giving the information.

His frown implied that he is upset with the decision.

Here, the person’s frown suggests his disagreement with the decision. It is not a deduction but a mere hint that is given away by the action of frowning.

Infer

When you draw a conclusion based on your understanding of various pieces of information, you infer. It is done either by the listener or someone who is observing or receiving information.

Since a deduction is made out of a given message, the preposition from is commonly used along with infer.

We inferred from his frown that he is upset with the decision.

Here, the person’s frown has been observed, and its underlying suggestion (his disagreement) has been figured out by the observer.

How to use imply and infer in academic writing?

Academic writing is full of experiments or studies conducted to test a hypothesis. In most cases, the authors mention what their experimental results indicate (imply) and what they figure out (infer) from these indications. Hence, it is crucial to learn the correct use of imply and infer.

Let us look at some examples to understand the difference better.

Incorrect: Studies showed that the conversion was sensitive to viscosity, thus inferring that the largest barrier is substrate binding.

Correct: Studies showed that the conversion was sensitive to viscosity, implying that the largest barrier is substrate binding.

Studies cannot infer; they indirectly point to some information or make a suggestion. Hence, imply should be used here.

Incorrect: From these results, we imply that cycle 23 should be above average in size.

Correct: From these results, we infer that cycle 23 should be above average in size.

In this sentence, the authors are not making a suggestion but are presenting a conclusion based on the recorded results. Hence, infer should be used here.

The mantra to decode these brain-teasing words is simple:

One who suggests or gives information, implies.

One who concludes from or receives information, infers.

Well, you reaching the end of this article implies that you have followed what we have explained. From this, can we infer that we managed to clear the confusion for you? Do let us know!

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