Professional Style

Imply vs. Infer

January 2012
Spot the Error

After Peter’s mother commented that he looks more impressive in black slacks than in jeans, Peter gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Are you inferring that I’m not properly dressed for the interview?”

Actually, the person doing the inferring is Peter. Infer means to deduce from evidence or reasoning. Therefore, Peter infers that he’s not properly dressed based on his mother’s comment.

Peter’s mother, on the other hand, is implying that Peter is not properly dressed when she comments on how nice he looks in black slacks. Imply means to say indirectly or suggest.

The misuse of infer for imply is a common error; not so much so the other way around. One way to keep the two words straight is to remember that speakers imply (both words have “P’s”) and listeners infer (both have “N’s”).

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