JS Tip 491: Imply and Infer

From the Writing Workshops: Imply and Infer

David Dennis of the California Water Service Company asked us to revisit implyand infer. It’s been a while since we talked about these. 

Implying and inferring can be subtle and tricky. 

Those who imply are trying to say something without saying it.  

Those who infer are trying to understand what hasn’t been said.  

Those who send the message (speakers and writers) imply.

They hint. They suggest. They insinuate. For example—

  • The speaker implied the mayor was an idiot.

Those who receive the message (listeners and readers) infer.

They conclude. They surmise. They suspect. For example—

  • The audience inferred the mayor was an idiot. 

Much of implying and inferring comes from body language and tone of voice. A speaker’s eye roll implies disbelief. When a listener sees the speaker roll her eyes, the listener infers the speaker’s disbelief.

One source argued imply and infer “have become so blended together that most people no longer distinguish between them.” We’re not ready to accept that. That may be the direction things are going, but we’re not there yet. Misuse the words, and others will doubt your credibility.

Oh. And bears dress in fur.

We love jokes like that.

Mark Brooks